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Sports Then and Now

What The Toronto Masters Means For …

Posted on August 18, 2010 by Rob York

Andy Murray finally got his first tournament victory of the season.

Andy Murray: Can you believe Canada is Murray’s first tournament win this year? Oh, wait, you probably can, since the Scot hasn’t really been dominating the conversation since his run to the Australian Open final. That doesn’t mean, though, that he hasn’t been listening to it.

In response to charges that the Scot was too passive or just didn’t have the weaponry, he stepped up his aggression levels considerably, complementing his natural affinity for counterpunching in dismissing David Nalbandian and Rafael Nadal. Then, in the final, he brushed aside any doubts about his competitive instincts, saving a break point in the final game with some Becker-esque clutch serving.

This can’t be the end, though; Murray must assume that Federer and Nadal (and maybe someone else) will improve between now and the latter round of the US Open. I won’t make a pick for the Open until after the Cincinnati Masters, but if Murray continues at this level, his chances are good.

Roger Federer: For all his struggles recently, the Great Swiss has won four of the last eight majors. He’s won a grand total of two Master’s Shields in the last three years, though, so it’s not all that surprising that he fell short here.

But it’s a kind of victory to see him battle back from behind against Tomas Berdych, his conqueror at Wimbledon, and narrowly top Novak Djokovic, a player whose game (and personality) bothers Federer. He is not playing at his best level yet, but following a series of tight losses, it’s really good just to see Federer competing that well.

The better he competes now, the better his chances of finding his range under the New York skyline.

A challenging tournament for Rafael Nadal ended with a semifinal loss to Murray.

Rafael Nadal: It was pretty clear from the moment Stanislas Wawrinka pushed the world No. 1 to a 14-12 tiebreak that Nadal was not on top of his game. Unlike at other events where this has been the case recently, like Wimbledon and Madrid, the Spaniard could not play himself into finer form.

Murray, though, deserves credit for playing aggressively and not allowing the Spaniard to find his range. The good news for Nadal is that those who win the US Open tend not to care if they lost in Toronto. What less good is that Nadal has never won in Cincinnati, his next stop, and this year isn’t looking too promising.

Novak Djokovic: He’s no longer No. 2 in the world, but it’s just as well, as these days few would have said that Novak Djokovic was the second-best player in the world. Even as he fell short against Federer in the semis, there were reasons to be encouraged.

For one, the player who went away against Berdych at Wimbledon and was subject to an epic collapse against Jurgen Melzer in Paris competed gamely after a disastrous first set, and managed to push the Swiss to the limit. Furthermore, at the end of the match Djokovic’s counterpunching appeared to seriously frustrate the Swiss, to the extent that the Serb had break points at the end and could have served for the match.

Two and a half years ago I never suspected that we’d be looking for encouragement from Djokovic’s narrow losses in Master’s Series events, but at least he appears to have stopped the drop.

David Nalbandian: So, is Da-veed back? I suppose it depends on what you mean by “back”: He is once again a dangerous player capable of causing upsets, as he proved by stopping No. 12 David Ferrer and No. 5 Robin Soderling in his first two matches.

But he is not yet back to his late-2007 level, when he beat Federer and Nadal twice each in the Madrid and Paris Master’s events, allowing the Swiss one set and the Spaniard none. Even in his big win in Washington, Nalbandian seemed to be having a bit more trouble taking care of his service games than he did then, and that goes a long way in explaining why it took him three sets each to dispatch Ferrer and Le Sod.

That, coupled with the energy exerted against the big Swede, left him in bad shape for the match against Murray.

The good news is that he still appears to be climbing, as his ranking is all the way back up to 37 now, and he still has time to improve between now and the Open. For now he’s still the USO dark horse, provided he doesn’t injure himself in the meantime. Injury, though, is the big unknown, as the Argentine’s build places more stress on his joints and his service motion remains an ab injury in the making.

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