Shanghai Masters 1000 Quarterfinals, 15 October 2010

Well, it was men’s quarterfinal day, and three of the Big Four were in action, as was the man who’d vanquished the fourth the night before.

Djokovic d. Garcia-Lopez 6/2 6/3
It looks on paper like an easy win for Djokovic. It wasn’t, but it was a convincing one, which is far more impressive. The fact is that Djokovic is looking so sharp – so damn sleek – right now that it’s easy to forget his opponent is in career-best form. Garcia-Lopez actually played decently today; flashy at times, but solid, too. Djokovic, however, is enjoying the finest form I’ve ever seen him in, including his run to the Australian Open title a few years ago. He looks dangerous, at all times, and from anywhere on the court.

For his part, GGL has had a standout Asian swing, and should feel tremendous pride in his efforts. In the three weeks since he arrived in Bangkok, his ranking has improved from 53 to about 28. This included the title in Bangkok and an unlikely victory over Nadal there, as well as quarterfinal runs in Tokyo and here. He also supplied the highlight of this match: a backhand winner up the line clocked at 165kph, the fastest recorded ground-stroke of the week. His single-handed backhand is a thing of beauty.

Murray d. Tsonga 6/2 6/2
Not too much to say about this one. Like his compatriot Gasquet yesterday, Tsonga was hardly present. It transpired afterwards that he was carrying an injury to something or other. He also seems to be carrying some extra weight. He certainly seemed puffier in the face than I remember him being. Anyway, Murray was steady and made him work and run. The Frenchman seemed interested in neither.

Monaco d. Melzer 6/7 7/5 6/2
How quickly things can change in tennis.

One day you’re beating Mischa Zverev, and the next you’re overcoming Jurgen Melzer. It just goes to show that anything is possible. Juan Monaco is now into the semifinals of a Masters 1000 for the first time.

Monaco has this strange facial tick: sometimes when he’s pleased, as when he’s just won an excellent point or something, the sides of his mouth curve upward. Occasionally he’ll even show his teeth. The expression seemed familiar, and some light googling revealed that it was a ‘smile’. Consulting my inner tennis-dictionary reminded me that a ‘smile’ (when deployed during a tennis match) is a gesture intended to convey the sardonic impression that your opponent has only won a point due to sheer luck. It was a familiar gesture in a confusing context. It was clearly some kind of gamesmanship. I hope the ATP looks into it, lest it spreads, and other players begin expressing their satisfaction at winning points with anything beyond fist-pumps and primal roars.

Federer d. Soderling 6/1 6/1
I’m working on an article about the Soderling phenomenon at the moment, in which I argue that his inflated status is largely the result of two victories (you know which ones) whose true significance lies more in the incredible records they ended (or forestalled), rather than being particularly revealing about Soderling’s status within the men’s game. These results have fooled many into viewing Soderling as a legitimate contender at the big events, and as a genuine rival to Federer and Nadal. I have nothing against Soderling, but neither proposition is true.

Tonight’s match did nothing to confound this analysis. Soderling wasn’t playing well, and Federer was. It takes a special kind of focussed ruthlessness to keep your foot on an opponent’s throat in this kind of match, but Federer did precisely that, never veering from his game plan of taking away the Swede’s time and keeping him perpetually off-balance. Soderling is above all a rhythm player, and there is always a danger that he can stroke his way back into form given sufficient balls to hit. Federer gave him nothing.

[Edit] I note the ATP website is calling this one Smackdown in Shanghai. Apt.

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