Indian Wells CC (Saturday)

Saturday, March 17, 2012 /by

RafaDavidBy TennisWorld Senior Contributing Editor Andrew Burton

Morning, all.

"It's not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand." John Cleese as Brian Stimpson in Clockwise.

So yesterday I had the pleasure of sitting next to Jorge Viale, better known to many of you as @fuebuena, Argentinian writer for ESPN.com Espanol, blogger, tweeter and general good guy. Jorge was one of the first of the press corps to go down with IW nastyvirus, and he's been slowly nursing himself back to health through the week on liquids, plain pasta and rice.

He's followed Nalbandian's slow recovery from multiple surgeries, and progress through the tournament to yesterday's second quarter final with Rafael Nadal. Nadal had looked in ominous form so far, not dropping a set in his first three matches.

By now you likely know the result (Hannah Wilks did the RR write-up). Experiencing it as it unfolded with Jorge was like being on a vigil for a fading relative. The two of us both genuinely believed, I think, that Nalbandian would lose. We just didn't know how, and whether the ending would be blessedly quick ("he really didn't suffer, you know") or whether the death struggles would be agonizing.

At 4-5, 30-30 in set 2 Jorge whispered to me "critical point." I figured Nadal would slice down the T then try to hit an inside out forehand. Half right: Nadal kicked his serve wide, and Nalbandian did connect with a solid cross court backhand return. But Nadal was scooting back behind the return and sent a penetrating forehand deep into the deuce corner, forcing an error.  Nadal was out of jail, and two games later the set scores were tied.

I turned around to Bill Dwyre, senior sports correspondent for the LA Times, and said "what do you think, 6-2 final set?" We were both in the stands after Nalbandian couldn't convert on five match points three years ago: Nalbandian's resistance in the final set made tissue paper look like tank armor. At 5-2, with Nadal serving for the match, my prediction looked pretty good. Then Nalbandian broke, and saved a match point on serve. And then, serving again for the match at 5-4, Nadal played four perceptibly tight points, and found himself on the wrong end of 15-40. I glanced at Jorge; we both, briefly, dared to hope. And then.... the "you gotta be kidding" drop shot, and two minutes later the doctors were closing the patient's eyes. Hope, killed.

I didn't pay a lot of attention to Azarenka-Kerber, and I hadn't planned to stay for Ivanovic-Sharapova (12:30 bed times have counted as early for me this week). Then I saw Courtney Nguyen, SI blogger and long time Ivanovic admirer outside on the press balcony, and I thought I'd sit with her for 10 minutes before I left. I was still in my seat 20 minutes later - we were seeing absolutely cracking tennis, great serving, rallies, toe to toe stuff. Ivanovic had the upper hand for much of the first set, looking at least as poised, confident and free swinging as she had in her 2008 campaign. But Sharapova dug in, crafted a break at 3-3, and moved to the changeover at 5-4 ready to serve for the set.

She had to wait for the chance. Ivanovic asked for a trainer, then a doctor. After a couple of minutes, she left the court for an extended medical timeout. When Ivanovic did return, she hit an immediate return winner, but Sharapova served out the set, and Ivanovic asked to talk to her coach. When she came onto court to begin set 2, Courtney could see that Ivanovic was wiping away tears during her service game. Although Ivanovic held serve, she couldn't continue. I was very disappointed, and I felt sad for Courtney: she'd been prepared for an error fest, been treated to the start of a high quality contest, then had hope pulled away. A favorite player coming back into form, into confidence... into the doctor's office for an MRI.

Roger Federer had scuffled and snuffled his way through his first three matches here. After I learned on Sunday that he was seriously under the weather I was prepared to see Milos Raonic collect a major scalp on Tuesday. As Federer struggled to get a forehand into play in his first set against Bellucci I prepared myself for disappointment, like Inigo Montoya facing the Man In Black.

Today, I figured the streak against Del Potro would snap.  Last night at the Beer Hunter I glumly told Steve Tignor, Matt Cronin and Ana Mitric that the Del Potro/Federer H2H wouldn't be like the Davydenko-Federer or Ferrer-Federer H2H. Del Potro was due. Steve, who'd picked Del Potro to make the final, concurred.

Well, you know how that turned out.

So I hope you can see where this is going.  Nadal-Federer. I know the H2H. I've gotten up for these matches in states of expectation, nervousness, frazzling and bravado. Today? Well, I've just seen what hope can do. And it isn't pretty.

Djokovic-Isner is the first match at 11am PT (2pm ET) followed by Nadal-Federer. WTA doubles between Mirza-Vesnina and Huber-Raymond is scheduled next, and finally ATP doubles between Lopez-Nadal and Querrey-Isner. That's the Order Of Play, but the weather forecast isn't looking great today, with wind and showers expected in the early afternoon.

Jorge, Enrique Carrion (La Prensa) and Dan Moskowitz, who's been doing some Racquet Reaction posts on Djokovic this week played tennis at the Esmerelda courts this morning, which was fun. As we left the courts at 10am, we could see the clouds gathering, and rain was already falling in Los Angeles to the west. We've been lucky with the weather so far, but that could end today.

As always, enjoy today's tennis!

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