Wimbledon: Nadal d. Fish

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 /by

201106291322481632665-p2@stats.com Mardy Fish followed an assertive approach to net, only to see a racing Rafael Nadal lean low and flick a full-stretch forehand up the line. The ball curled over the American’s outstretched racquet and landed cleanly in the corner, as if guided by an internal GPS.

Even when Fish pushed the defending champion into defensive positions, Nadal often responded with the conviction of a man slamming a door shut in the face of a breeze. The top seed stopped Fish, 6-3, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, to register his 19th straight Wimbledon win and advance to the final four for the fifth time.

Showing no signs of compromised mobility after suffering a foot injury against Juan Martin del Potro in the fourth round, Nadal withstood a third-set stumble, broke for a 2-1 fourth-set lead and never looked back in dispatching Fish for the sixth time in as many meetings. “I think I started the first two sets playing really well; I had a break in the third set and he started to play better,” Nadal told the BBC. “I lost a little bit of intensity in the third and probably the fourth. In the beginning, I was playing more aggressive. After the first two sets I probably played a little too defensive.”

The 10th-seeded Fish served near or above 60 percent in his four tournament wins to reach the quarters for the first time, and needed to serve at least 65 percent to seriously threaten Nadal. But he was a bit tentative in connecting on just 39 percent of his first serves in the opening set, as Nadal converted three of four break points to take it with ease. By the time Fish finally found the range on serve, Nadal was already a break up in the second set. The Spaniard knocked off a backhand slice volley for double set point, and when Fish nudged a backhand return beyond the baseline, the 10-time Grand Slam champ had a two-set lead.

In his best Wimbledon result, Fish showed glimpses of the grass-court game that carried him to the Queen’s Club final and the Newport title last summer. But trying to beat Nadal in running rallies was as futile as attempting to replace the Rolex courtside clock with a sundial. He did, however, collect the third set with a running forehand on the line that followed a brilliant backhand return.

The muscular Mallorcan’s physicality often overshadows his mentality, but Nadal is a master at making mid-match adjustments. Fish tried a surprise second serve-and-volley play in the fourth set, but had trouble picking the return emerging from the shadows, dumping a forehand volley into net as Nadal took a 2-1 lead. Sealing the match in style with a slice serve and sharp-angled, backhand volley winner, Nadal won 21 of his 27 net approaches to set up a blockbuster semifinal with fourth-seeded Scot Andy Murray for the second straight year.

The frequent PlayStation opponents possess shrewd court sense and can counter on the run as well as anyone, which should make for a fascinating showdown, with Nadal holding an 11-4 career edge, including a pair of straight-sets wins at Wimbledon.

—Richard Pagliaro

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