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Basel, Quarterfinals

Roddick d. Nalbandian, 6/4 6/4

Unremarkably, when David Nalbandian is winning he looks unbeatable. Curiously, he looks equally infallible when he loses, which is to say that most of his losses feel like upsets, even though there are plenty of them. There are other players that are as natural as Nalbandian off the ground – a certain Swiss chap springs to mind – but I don’t think there are any better. For sheer timing, variety and the capacity to change direction at will, his backhand is the best I’ve ever seen. It is one of the few backhands that Rafael Nadal fears, since its potency can so effectively blunt the Spaniard’s greatest strength. But Nalbandian’s forehand is also brilliant, and the timing is so good that describing it involves delving into strange metaphorical territory: I have watched Nalbandian strike hundreds of forehands – he’s a fearsome sight on a practice court – but with the naked eye I’ve always found it hard to ascertain precisely when the point of contact occurs, as though it occurs within a cloud of possibility, like an electron. Where you think contact occurs never quite tallies with the sound of the ball meeting the strings. And like the backhand, he never looks like he’s taking a particularly big cut at the ball, yet the power is there, and the winners flow.

Nevertheless, he lost today, proving that all the technique in the world can’t save you if you’re mentally patchy against a seasoned professional like Andy Roddick. For his part, Roddick served beautifully, never facing a beak point all night, and for a change backed it up with an aggressive ground-game, which is essential against a returner of Nalbandian’s quality. Hustling and bustling, Roddick played like there was a spot in London on the line, as opposed to, say, Berdych and Verdasco, who played like a couple of disinterested bozos.

Troicki d. Gasquet, 6/4 6/2

Speaking of sublimely gifted ball strikers, Richard Gasquet may well finish up boasting no greater accolade than being the guy who made Nalbandian look like an over-achiever.

Since almost toppling compatriot Novak Djokovic at the US Open, Victor Troicki has been one of the real movers of the late-season, so far highlighted by claiming his first title in Moscow a few weeks back. He has now leap-frogged Tipsarevic to be the second ranked Serb, and has surely pushed himself into singles selection for the Davis Cup final. He’ll have a chance to get one back against the top-ranked Serb in tomorrow’s Basel semifinal.

In other news, Nadal has pulled out of the Paris Indoors next week, citing tendinitis in his serving shoulder. Will he manage to miss the Tour finals for the third time in the last six years?

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