Berdych-Roddick:  For the second straight year, Roddick came within a few points of decapitating half of the ATP’s reigning hydra in London.  Although his match against Nadal will fade from memory far faster than the 2009 Wimbledon final, he displayed a similarly courageous and resilient effort.  Delivering unexpectedly explosive blows at critical junctures, the American’s backhand rewarded his trust in his weakest shot.  Most pivotal to Roddick’s near-upset, of course, was a serve that whistled unopposed past Nadal eighteen times and often flustered the Spaniard despite his excellent return.  The easily flustered Berdych failed to crack this code in the Miami final that he contested with Roddick, a tale of two competitive but ultimately straightforward sets.  Prior to that afternoon, the American conquered the Czech on the indoor courts of San Jose as well as the Brisbane tournament.  In his opening clash with Djokovic, Berdych confirmed our impression of him as an impostor at this event; after he immediately signaled his uncertainty with an early double fault, he submitted a lethargic, error-strewn performance.   Six of their eight meetings have featured tiebreaks, an area in which Roddick lately has fallen far short of his usual excellence (7-13 since June).  But Berdych won’t reach a tiebreak this time unless he produces a higher first-serve percentage and a more authoritative sequence of forehands than he has showcased during the season’s second half.  As Murray knows well,  every set and game matters in this format, so Roddick should aim to dispatch the Czech as efficiently as possible.

Nadal-Djokovic:  Frequently outplayed by Roddick on Monday, Nadal nevertheless quelled his evident discomfort on the surface just soon enough to score a critical opening victory.  Reversing the American’s momentum in the second-set tiebreak, he barely brushed the sideline with a reflex backhand flick off a penetrating second serve.  An ace and a fistpump later, the Spaniard’s confidence finally settled onto firmer foundations.  In the aftermatch of his debacle at the O2 Arena last year, this triumph must boost his courage before a clash with one of his 2009 nemeses in London.  The proud owner of a 7-4 hard-court record against Rafa, Djokovic dismantled the Spaniard three times last year before gallantly succumbing in a four-set US Open final this September.  Although the Serb claims to have focused himself upon winning his nation’s maiden Davis Cup title, he delivered a poised effort against Berdych during which he never faced a break point.  In a situation that lacked drama or suspense, Djokovic sensibly refrained from injecting any drama of his own, a weakness that has cost him against the perpetually focused, businesslike Nadal.

Tested much more severely than Novak in his opener, Rafa conquered an opponent whose relentless, staccato rushes into the forecourt interrupted the Spaniard’s rhythmic flow.  Against a foe with a less overwhelming serve, the world #1 should find himself in longer baseline exchanges where his fluid style should find clearer expression.  During the course of a rivalry that already has extended across 22 meetings, the Spaniard has brought out the best in the Serb’s offense, while the Serb has brought out the best in the Spaniard’s counterpunching.  Among our favorite elements of this delicious matchup is the forehand contrast between the flat, nonchalant swipe of Djokovic’s inside-out rockets and the crafty curl of Nadal’s cross-court hooks.  The often awkwardly low bounce in the O2 Arena clashes with Rafa’s preference for high-bouncing groundstrokes, yet his ability to adapt among any adverse conditions ranks second to none in the ATP.  A win for Nadal virtually would secure a semifinal berth as the winner of Group A and quite possibly a weekend reunion with Roger.  Meanwhile, a win for the event’s 2008 champion probably (although not definitely) would lead him to the semifinals and an opportunity to cement his second-half resurgence.  While Djokovic might prefer a Davis Cup title to a World Tour Finals crown this year, he typically forgets such prearranged priorities in the heat of battle, much to the delight of everyone except his opponents.

***

We return tomorrow to preview Federer-Soderling and Murray-Ferrer as Group B draws to a conclusion.

 

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