Nadal lets Fish off the hook -- briefly
FOR MUCH of this match, the champion threatened not just to fillet Mardy Fish, but to dice, boil and season him in some kind of rich, ingenious tennis bouillabaisse.
This, however, is the year when the tennis elite have disclosed their feet of clay. First Serena Williams trod on a glass in a darkened restaurant; then Kim Clijsters turned her ankle on the dance floor. And now we had this pesky bone in Rafael Nadal's left foot.
But there was nothing wrong with his mobility as he hurtled into a two-set lead. Nor when he tore around the court to avenge the fleeting negligence that required him to extend his stay on Court One to seven minutes short of three hours. In the end, he won 6-3 6-3 5-7 6-4 and he confirmed that his foot felt fine.
By then, however, Fish had at least shown Andy Murray that even a winning streak of 19 matches here does not make Nadal invincible.
We might have known that a guy named Mardy could party on grass. Just like Bernard Tomic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, however, the underdog made a dreadful start to his quarter-final. Never having made the last four of a Grand Slam, he was trying to start the motor in third gear.
As Nadal raced into a 2-0 lead, the wails and shrieks of excitement from Centre Court permitted no doubt that something rather more competitive was reaching a climax between Messrs Federer and Tsonga.
Nadal was dismissing second serves with heartless disdain and Fish managed to win just two of his five service games in the opening set -- extended when Nadal had himself inattentively dropped serve at 5-2.
Fish does move gracefully round the court and his business-like forehand won him a couple of break points in the third game of the second set, but Nadal promptly produced three booming first serves. Fish did not have the same head for heights. In the very next game he succumbed to a series of downhearted errors, twice finding the net when Nadal was in trouble.
The Spaniard closed out the set in perfunctory fashion, and when he broke serve in the first game of the third, everyone assumed the game was up.
That unanimity appeared to be shared by his opponent, however, and he immediately relaxed. The moment the pressure was off, he began to serve and swing lustily. Emboldened by this sudden glimpse of parity, Fish perhaps began to wonder about Nadal's foot.
Suddenly Nadal found himself 15-40 down serving at 5-6 in the third. Fish missed his first chance with an over-excited forehand, but speared the next across the court to land on the chalk.
Nadal did not take long to retrieve the initiative in the fourth. Fish stabbed a volley into the net on break point in its third game, and Nadal defended the break with a love game.
When Nadal finally sealed the victory, he rightly joined the applause for Fish as he hastened from the court.
Fish's exit reiterates the sorry condition of the American game. Last month, albeit briefly, for the first week in rankings history not one American featured among the top 10 men or women. Clearly, this was partly because of injury to the Williams sisters, while Fish himself is now ranked No 9. The last US male to win a Grand Slam was Andy Roddick, in the 2003 US Open. (© Independent News Service)