ATP Cincinnati: Rafael Nadal vs Tomas Berdych semi-final preview

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Following his 21st career win over Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal will aim to reach his second Masters final in as many weeks when he takes on Tomas Berdych later today. Rafa leads the Head to Head against the Czech with an impressive 14-3.

The 31st Federer-Nadal showdown was one of the better matches of their fabled rivalry, and much more competitive than many expected. Federer refused to play the role of declining legend and instead produced arguably his best tennis of the year, taking the ball early and dominating at the net for the first set and a half. The Swiss won the opener 7-5 and looked solid enough to beat his arch-rival for the first time in 17 months.

But the Matador refused to buckle. From a sticky spot at 3-all, 0-30 in the second set, he raised his level; a run of nine straight points saw him take it 6-4 and establish an early break in the third. He consolidated to move ahead 3-0 in the decider, and although Federer continued to hold serve thereafter, Nadal didn’t relinquish his grip for one moment. He triumphed 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 in two and a quarter hours to remain unbeaten on hard courts in 2013.

The King of Clay later said that finding his range on the return was key to his comeback.

“I think my movement started to get better, more intense. I started to put more balls inside on the return, and I started to have more control of the ball from the baseline, something that didn’t happen in the first set and a half.”

Having now beaten both Djokovic and Federer on hard court courts this summer, Nadal was denied a chance to take on the other member of the “Big Four” when Andy Murray fell in straight sets to Tomas Berdych. The Czech took advantage of Murray’s inconsistency to win 6-3, 6-4 in just over an hour and a half. While he served only two aces compared to Murray’s ten, Berdych saved all four the break points he faced and was rock solid from the back of the court.

A few years ago, Berdych looked like the man who would break the Federer-Nadal duopoly at the top of the men’s game. But in spite of his power and sound technique, he hasn’t developed the mental strength required to challenge consistently for the biggest titles. A pattern has formed in recent seasons, whereby he beats one top player but falls in the next round to another. Can he buck that trend by defeating Nadal a day after dispatching Murray?

On the evidence of his head-to-head with the Spaniard, that seems unlikely. Berdych beat Nadal three times in a row in 2005-2006, but in their 13 encounters since then, he’s won only two sets. He has the kind of big-serving, hard-hitting game that should trouble the French Open champion, yet time and again Nadal has managed to exploit his inferior movement, regardless of the playing surface. Unless Berdych plays hyper-aggressive, error-free lights out tennis, he’ll do that again in Cincinnati.

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