David Ferrer - ATP Masters Series Monte Carlo - Day Eight

Awaiting the proud citizens of Barcelona is a Friday filled with compatriots on the court.  No fewer than five Spaniards have reached the quarterfinals of this ATP 500 tournament, which could feature all-Spanish semifinals and probably will feature an all-Spanish final.  Two top-10 opponents and an opportunistic Croat aim to disrupt that narrative, however.

Nadal vs. Monfils:  The top-ranked players from their respective nations, the Spaniard and the Frenchman personify two fundamentally opposing approaches to the sport.  While Nadal channels his energies towards the single goal of winning, Monfils generally gains more satisfaction from the journey than the destination.  Equal to the world #1 in power and athleticism, the world #9 habitually attempts low-percentage shots that showcase his spectacular abilities on the occasions when they find their targets.  But Monfils lacks the strategic clarity and talent for point construction that has fueled Nadal’s success on clay as much as his defensive abilities.  A natural mover on this surface and an excellent defender himself, the Frenchman often doesn’t choose the wisest option when he has the opportunity to finish a point.  By contrast, Nadal’s transition game functions more smoothly than those of any rival except perhaps Djokovic.  He has lost five or fewer games in all three of his clay meetings with the Frenchman, who understandably has struggled to find his idiosyncratic style since returning from injury.  For every acrobatic jumping forehand and ostentatiously pulverized smash, an equal number of routine errors will emerge to fuel Nadal’s progress into the semifinals.

Dodig vs. Lopez:  Perhaps the ATP’s best-kept secret in 2011, Dodig defeated Soderling earlier this week, won his home title in Croatia, and became the only player to capture a set from Djokovic in Melbourne.   Unlike most of his compatriots, this Croat stands at just six feet and thus need not construct his game around his serve.  This greater versatility probably explains his success on a surface where Cilic, Ljubicic, Ancic, and similar towers of power have scored relatively few accomplishments.  Against the third-ranked Spanish lefty, Dodig will confront an opponent not dissimilar to his previous victim, the budding Milos Raonic.  Unflustered by the Canadian’s thunderous delivery, the Croat handed him a rare tiebreak bagel before ultimately outlasting him in three sets.  Just as uncommon among Spaniards as Dodig is among Croats, Lopez has cultivated a net-rushing, serve-centric style better adapted to grass than clay.  That said, his national surface offers him more time to run around his unreliable backhand to dictate rallies with his forehand.  Overwhelmed by Ferrer in Monte Carlo, Lopez recorded a pair of creditable victories here over Garcia-Lopez and Nishikori.

Melzer vs. Ferrer:  Clashing just last week in a Monte Carlo semifinal, the Austrian and the Spaniard progressed to this round in contrasting manners.  As he did in the Mediterranean principality, Ferrer has comprehensively dominated all opponents not named Nadal.  After reaching the Rome final last year, he sustained that success by extending Federer to a third set in a Madrid semifinal, so he should not rest content with last week’s accomplishments.  Physically and mentally fit to unfold a sequence of deep runs, Ferrer faces an opponent who shrugged off a back injury in Monte Carlo and overcame the challenging Montanes in a Thursday three-setter.  The 30-year-old Melzer deserves acclaim for defying his age to deliver the best tennis of his career over the past year, but he does not rank among the few players who match Ferrer’s fitness level.  Somewhat deceptive was the routine scoreline of their Monte Carlo semifinal, however, which featured several close games and break points on which the Austrian did not capitalize.  But his audacious shot-making requires an ample degree of confidence, which he may lack against a player who stifled him just six days ago.

Ferrero vs. Almagro:  Eyeing a top-10 berth, Almagro has rekindled memories of his thunderous South American clay-court campaign with straight-sets victories over the recently dangerous Andujar and the increasingly less dangerous Davydenko.  In Madrid last year, the Spaniard also become one of only two players to win a set from Nadal on clay last year.  Somewhat in the vein of Monfils, Almagro has chronically lacked intensity; in Monte Carlo, he faced four match points against the unimposing Maximo Gonzalez and then mustered little resistance against Melzer.  Far south of the Spaniard in the rankings lies the former #1 Ferrero, who did not play an ATP main-draw match in 2011 until this week.  In the twilight of his career, this genteel competitor has delighted his compatriots by exploiting an accommodating draw.  Much more substance than style, the understated Ferrero should pose an intriguing personality comparison with the flamboyant Almagro.  One wonders whether crowd sympathies will tilt towards the fading flagship of the former “Spanish Armada” or the more electrifying style of his challenger.  Counter-intuitively, Ferrero has won their last two meetings, including an Acapulco three-setter last year.   Unless Almagro self-destructs, as he still can, his raw firepower should prove too intense for a veteran whose weapons cannot compete with those of the current elite.

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We return tomorrow to discuss the final four in a fascinating Stuttgart tournament.

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