Although Rafael Nadal has never won the Miami title, he has plenty of positive memories from this tournament upon which to reflect as he charges into his semifinal against Roddick.  A two-time finalist here, Nadal came within a set of taking the trophy in 2005 (when the final was still in the best-of-five-set format) and scored a series of impressive wins two years ago before falling to an inspired Davydenko.  Moreover, there’s the Crandon Park golf promotional with a certain WTA star who invariably brings a smile to anyone’s face.  😉  Let’s cast a glance at the Spaniard’s road ahead, which could lead to victory without a single confrontation against a top-6 player.  An ominously familiar face lurks in the other half of the draw, however…

Berdych (16) vs. Soderling (5):  Impressively rallying past Verdasco one round after ambushing Federer, Berdych finds himself in the semifinals here for the second time in three years (l. to Nadal in 2008).  While he struggled through a labyrinthine route, Soderling slugged his way past overmatched opponents including a rusty Gonzalez and Youzhny; the Swede served two bagels and two breadsticks during his first four matches.  This contest will feature relentlessly bruising ball-striking on both sides; expect an avalanche of both winners and unforced errors. We’ll go through the same profile as we did for the WTA semifinals.

Head-to-head:  Soderling leads 4-2, and his edge looms even larger upon closer inspection.  One of Berdych’s wins came on clay in Monte Carlo during a match that the Swede effectively donated after losing his temper.  The other win happened in the 2005 Rotterdam tournament, too long ago to possess much relevance.  Meanwhile, Soderling has recorded four straight-sets victories over the Czech, including a resounding win in Malaysia last year. 

Recent form:  Always a streaky player, Berdych had attracted little attention over the past several months before thrashing Verdasco at Indian Wells and severely testing Nadal.  In this event, he has displayed a grittiness antithetical to his long-standing reputation of mental frailty.  Not many players could have regrouped after a hairline miss at 5-5 in a third-set tiebreak against Federer, nor would many of his peers have found a way to win after a sluggish set and a half against Verdasco.  Although he exited in the first round of Australia, Soderling has returned to his formidable self over the past several weeks, seizing the Rotterdam title in addition to reaching the semifinals at Indian Wells.  For extended stretches of his matches here, he has been suffocatingly dominant.  When he encounters any adversity (the second-set tiebreak against Gonzalez, his first service game against Youzhny), he has continued to fearlessly hurl thunderbolts, demonstrating the invaluable confidence that he has acquired over the past ten months. 

Shot-by-shot breakdown:

Serve:  Berdych, slightly

Return:  Soderling, slightly

Forehand:  Both

Backhand:  Soderling

Volleys:  Neither

Movement:  Soderling

Mental:  Soderling

Recap:  If Berdych lands a high percentage of first serves and plays as aggressively in his return games as he did against Federer, he has a reasonable chance.  But the Swede’s more judicious shot selection, greater patience, and superior consistency should see him through, especially since the Czech may have lost a little spring in his step after two epic wins that both ended just short of three hours. 


Nadal (4) vs. Roddick (6):  Nadal will need to hone his passing shots for the American, who doubtless will attempt to truncate points by moving forward behind his colossal serve.  Over the last several months, Rafa struggled with that area of his game, but his matches here against Ferrer and Tsonga suggested that he might have reversed this trend.  Will the American’s frenetic, arhythmic style or the Spaniard’s fluid, leisurely pace set the tone?  The match could be decided by both players’ success on break points, which should be rare indeed. 

Head-to-head:  Rafa leads 5-2, yet their meetings on clay probably can be discounted.  On hard courts, the record stands at 2-2; however, the apparent parity here also is a trifle misleading.  One of Roddick’s two wins occurred at the 2004 US Open (before Nadal was Nadal), while the other win happened at the Dubai tournament, never a focus of the Spaniard’s campaign.  Nadal’s two victories both occurred in the much more significant setting of Indian Wells.  At the same time, it’s worth noting that the desert event’s surface is perhaps the slowest among all hard courts, allowing Nadal a few precious extra milliseconds to retrieve Roddick’s bombs.

Recent form:  Despite a slightly disappointing Australian Open, Roddick has recorded consistent results in 2010 that range from the Brisbane title to the finals in San Jose and Indian Wells.  He is the only ATP semifinalist who has reached the final four without dropping a set, although his draw so far has been much less than imposing.  Battling past dangerous ball-strikers such as Nalbandian and Tsonga, Nadal has played his way into the tournament.  He hasn’t won a title since Rome last year and has often looked shaky at crucial moments, such as the third-set tiebreak in his Indian Wells semifinal; nevertheless, Rafa appears to be slowly settling into a groove just in time for the clay season.

Shot-by-shot breakdown:

Serve:  Roddick

Return:  Nadal

Forehand:  Nadal

Backhand:  Nadal

Volleys:  Nadal

Movement:  Nadal

Mental:  Nadal

Recap:  Illustrated by the dissection above, the Spaniard does everything better than the American except serve.  Unless the Indian Wells finalist delivers a spectacular serving display, therefore, Rafa should score his most impressive win (ranking-wise) since the Greatest Upset Ever at last year’s French Open. 



After a second straight perfect day (4-0), our prognosticating record has climbed to 42-7 (about 86%):  22-4 for the ATP, 20-3 for the WTA.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed that we keep adding to the win column tomorrow!  🙂