DelPo defeated Murray, 6-7(4) 6-3 6-1 to advance to the SF at Indian Wells. They played a 2.5 hour match in torrid conditions, as temperatures reached 35 Celsius.
Of the 4 men’s QF at IW this year, DelPo-Muzz was the most evenly-matched one and it delivered in terms of competitive drama.
DelPo had an early chance with 2 BPs in Muzz’s opening service game, but his CC BH was not up to the task, as he left a short ball for Muzz to come in and attack. Muzz then brought up a couple of strong serves to hold.
In the 1st set, the big man had trouble with his shot selection. When Muzz served at 1-1 (30-0), DelPo hit a stellar return, only to follow it up with a failed drop shot. For the better part of the 1st, he played quite defensively. At 2-all, his W:UFE ratio was 1:4 while Muzz had 5:8. The rallies got more interesting at 3-3 when Muzz was serving and DelPo won a fair number of points through the depth of his shots. Yet it also quickly became evident that DelPo’s BH was also his noticeably weaker side. He had almost no pace off that wing and he hit cross-court floaters, while hitting the slice at every chance he got.
This tactic proved to be his downfall in the 1st set TB, a very messy affair. DelPo had the early mini-break but lost the next 2 points on his serve. DelPo was able to recoup one of the points, but he eventually fell behind 2-5 in the TB. Muzz returned the favor by hitting 2 unforced errors to bring it back on serve. At 4*-5, DelPo bafflingly drew himself into a 43-shot rally that was notable for his utter passivity. He literally pushed the ball back over the net and did nothing else, until Muzz drew him into making an error. Muzz finally put an end to the TB, taking the 1st set 7-6(5).
DelPo’s chances for the match seemed dim after the way he managed the TB. But that’s what made his comeback in the 2nd set all the more impressive. He started out winning the next 9 points, as he broke Muzz’s serve at love (courtesy of Muzz’s sloppy errors and a DF from Muzz) and consolidated. He then hit his first ace (a 132 mph) to consolidate for a 4-1* lead. Muzz’s level dropped in the 2nd set, as he struggled with his serves, although his net coverage was stellar. But credit goes to DelPo for lifting his game. While DelPo had some nervy moments, he eventually took the 2nd set, 6-3, on an overhead smash that he punctuated with an elongated grunt.
With the exception of DelPo’s win over Muzz at the 2009 Madrid QF (which he won in straights), all of DelPo-Muzz’s previous matches in best-of-3 settings have gone the full distance.
In the 3rd set, DelPo played the big points well to go against the ominous past H2H trend. He staved off his first BP at 0*-1 with a strong 2nd serve and then gained 2 BPs on Muzz’s serve. On his 3rd BP of the third set, DelPo pounced on his FH to break for the lead at 2*-1, after a long cat-and-mouse rally. To me, this point signified the balance between patience and aggression that DelPo had found in the 2nd set. Unlike his R3 loss to Chardy at the AO, DelPo successfully changed up his tactics during the match against Muzz. This was smart tennis from his side.
The biggest challenge came at 2*-1 in the 3rd set when he faced his 2nd BP of the match. He held with a clutch point, after reaching GP with another 132-mph ace that almost hit tournament owner Larry Ellison in the head.
Muzz faded and quickly went down a double break. At this point, DelPo was in control of the match. He had 2 MPs on Muzz’s serve and Muzz DF-ed for the 8th time to lose the match. Muzz finished the match with a W:UFE ratio of 35:49, compared to DelPo’s 23:27.
This was a good comeback win for DelPo. Since Wimbledon last year, DelPo has notched 1 win over Murray, 1 win over Djokovic and 2 wins over Federer.
While Robbie Koenig made the observation that DelPo’s FH has lost a bit of sting after his wrist injury in 2009-2010, I think there may be an alternative explanation, which is that DelPo is trying to mix up his game. DelPo’s forehands are still aggressive, but he’s also become more adept at mixing up a flat FH with those that have more spin and angled placement. While DelPo’s constant BH slices may be a matter of necessity, given his left wrist problems, this variety also bodes well for his game. Koenig rightly noted that DelPo successfully used Muzz’s game against Muzz, with the BH slice and injection of pace.
Although it was only a QF, DelPo’s three-set win over Muzz feels like an important one, as it was his first win over Muzz on HCs. Also, he played the big points well. As DelPo himself commented, “I had come close to defeating [Murray] on hard courts at the Montreal final in 2009. Today, I succeeded.”
Sam Gore noted that all-time great Rod Laver is one of DelPo’s biggest fans and that Laver “marvels at how hard he hits the ball, as we all do.”
Prior to their match on center court, DelPo and Muzz were seen practicing side-by-side on the tennis court[tweet https://twitter.com/EnriqueNoticias/status/312658991333392384 align=’center’] [tweet https://twitter.com/SkySportsTennis/status/312304785053323265 align=’center’]
Fergus Murphy was chair umpire. It felt just like old times:
At 5-5 on Murray’s serve in the 1st set, DelPo hesitated when Muzz hit a topspin FH that just clipped the line. DelPo thought the ball was out, but he continued playing the point, which Muzz won. DelPo walked over to the linesman and put his sunglasses over his head, in a frustrated but good-natured way. Here is a GIF, brought to you by The Changeover:
After the match, DelPo signed the camera, “Te Quiero.” Is he thinking of creating a new line of candies called SugarPo?
[tweet https://twitter.com/TheSliceTweets/status/312739990411018241 align=’center’]
SF: DelPo-Djokovic and Nadal-Berdych
DelPo will face off against Djokovic in the SF. This is their 2nd meeting in 2013, following the Dubai SF, where Djokovic won in straight sets. The Serbian has played well this week and he showed impressive form in his 53 minute dismissal of no. 8-ranked Tsonga in the QF. DelPo trails the H2H 2:8 and he has also yet to beat Djokovic on outdoor HCs (his two wins over Djokovic were on grass and indoor HCs). The slower surface may favor Djokovic. Hopefully, DelPo can use the confidence from his QF win to challenge Djokovic, as DelPo did take the 2nd set to a TB in Dubai.
The other SF will feature Nadal vs. Berdych. Berdy is 3-12 against Nadal, with his last victory over the Spaniard coming in the 2006 Madrid final. This is probably one of Berdy’s better chances to pull off the upset, although Nadal looked to be in great form during his quick 2-set victory over (a hampered) Fed in the QF. Fed’s back hindered his movement and he did not provide much of a contest to Nadal — Fed will now take a 2-month break before returning for the Madrid Masters.