Rafael Nadal - Rakuten Open - Day 6

Nadal vs. Fish:  At first glance, the Spaniard’s overwhelming supremacy in their head-to-head record suggests that his London campaign will open uneventfully.  Even on the fast courts of Wimbledon and the US Open, Nadal ruthlessly exploited Fish’s inconsistency from the baseline and any ebbs in his first-serve percentage.  An ambitious but erratic returner, the eighth seed has struggled to crack the second seed’s serve and never even earned a break point when they collided in Tokyo two months ago.  Confirming this impression from their head-to-head are other factors, such as the injuries that have afflicted the American this fall and his inexperience at the year-end championships.  (On the other hand, Del Potro reached the final in his debut there two years ago.)  Before the question turns from whether Fish can win to whether he can stay competitive, though, one should note that Nadal nearly lost to a similar opponent in the round-robin stage last year.  Against the mighty serve of Roddick, he trailed by a set and a break before escaping a second-set tiebreak with a pair of opportunistic second-serve returns.  Much more skilled at the net than his compatriot, Fish should embrace the serve-volley style frequently both to minimize the impact of his lingering injuries and to take time away from Nadal.  Having played only sparsely—and largely unimpressively—since the US Open, the Spaniard often needs a round or two to settle into a tournament.  If Fish denies him the opportunity to settle, Nadal may not respond with the stabbing returns and pinpoint passing shots that have bedeviled net-rushers before.  Deployed by Dodig, the net-rushing, point-shortening style troubled Nadal in his first match after the Wimbledon final and a similarly long hiatus.  In order to entertain even a faint hope of an upset, though, Fish must strike at least two of every three first serves and vary the placement of that shot.  Even if he does, his hopes remain faint.

Federer vs. Tsonga:  Rarely do two players face each other in consecutive matches, and even more rarely do two top-10 players face each other in consecutive matches.  Yet such is the situation when the Paris Indoors champion meets the Paris Indoors runner-up in the opening encounter of the 2011 World Tour Finals.  Having lost twice to Tsonga this year, Federer may bring greater confidence into this most recent encounter than he would have without last weekend’s triumph, although he had won their next-most-recent meeting at the US Open.  Memories of the defeat might not trouble the Frenchman, however, for he appears to approach not only each match but each game and even each point with the same carefree attitude.  While that insouciance has undermined his efforts to sustain leads and seal victories, it conversely enhances his danger to an opponent who feels secure in a lead of his own.  At the Rogers Cup two years ago and at Wimbledon this year, Federer learned that lesson in ignominious fashion as he squandered a 5-1 stranglehold in a final set and a two-set lead, both for the first time in the Swiss legend’s career.  Notwithstanding his comeback potential, Tsonga should strive to avoid the lackluster start that he suffered in Paris and that has characterized five of his six meetings with Federer this year.  The lopsided first set last weekend in fact featured an early opportunity for the Frenchman to seize an advantage, but his failure to capitalize set the tone for what followed.  Spurning a chance to reverse the momentum midway through the second set as well, Tsonga must realize that he can ill afford to offer Federer second lives.

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