Moving Parts

World Tour Finals, Day Five

(4) Federer d. (8) Fish, 6/1 3/6 6/3

(7) Tsonga d. (2) Nadal, 7/6 4/6 6/3

Mardy Fish has every reason to feel despondent with his 2011 World Tour Finals campaign, leaving the tournament early without winning a match. He was presumably resigned to being abroad for Thanksgiving – that annual nationwide degustation in which the capacity to feed oneself is hopefully appreciated by the 5/6ths of Americans that can – but probably hoped to be somewhere other than aboard a plane over the Atlantic. If he’s in search of comfort, or distraction from the inflight movie, he can find some in the fact that he won a set in all three of his losses this week, although he’ll surely regret not taking two from Rafael Nadal, like everyone else did.

Today he lost to Roger Federer, but there’s no shame in that, especially given the latter’s form. For parts of the match, Fish was even the superior player. The issue, as it has been all week, is that he couldn’t sustain this superiority through the deciding set, which inevitably decided matters. Federer had already earned his semifinal berth, and so had little to motivate him beyond a few hundred ranking points, pride, and the frenzied adulation of the crowd. He didn’t look terribly concerned when Fish stormed through the second set, or particularly elated upon winning.

Later, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga joined Federer in the semifinals by taking the requisite two sets from Rafael Nadal. This time it was Nadal’s turn to fade sharply in the final set, having hung on grimly to steal a break at the end of the second. Tsonga tightened perceptibly upon stepping up to serve for the match at 5/2 – the court-side microphones picked up the creak and pop of his mighty thews – and conceded the break back in a flurry of double-faults. Fortunately he had a second break in hand, and so looked more wryly amused than stricken, and remained sufficiently loose that he broke Nadal again in the next game, sealing the deal with an off-forehand screamer. Tsonga’s forehand is of course a fearsome shot, but it was his deft and skillful volleys that today proved decisive, along with his first serve. As for Nadal, his forehand ranks among the greatest in the sport, and today it was frankly horrible, a discomfiting illustration of the extent to which the Spaniard feeds off confidence, and of how diminished he is without it. He has the Davis Cup final in eight days, and much to think on.

Tsonga, the surprise we saw coming, will face David Ferrer in the semifinal, an outcome surely no one anticipated. Skipping and twirling across the court afterwards, the Frenchman must fancy his prospects. Ferrer will arguably feel the same, notwithstanding that he too has a Davis Cup final looming. He will play the final round robin match tomorrow against Tomas Berdych, which will decide the last semifinalist (either Berdych or Djokovic). While Ferrer probably doesn’t care who goes through, he will care very much about not wrecking himself the day before the semifinals –  especially with Tsonga having an extra day’s rest – and the week before the Davis Cup. If Berdych takes the first set tomorrow, there is every chance that Ferrer will concede gracefully. A straight sets victory would guarantee Berdych advances, and that Djokovic’s greatest season ever ends in disappointment. Meanwhile, Tipsarevic will play Djokovic earlier in the day, and has it within his power to ease his close friend and compatriot’s passage further by not winning a set. As ever at the end of the round robin stage, there are plenty of moving parts, guaranteeing that each man’s immense pride and urge to win will come up hard against his obligations to friends, countrymen and his own body.

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