A final between #2 and #3 seeds might indicate a routine week on the ATP Tour, but this Masters 1000 produced a few career-changing performances. While the attention will be on Murray and Ferrer tomorrow, much of the excitement of the week came from Florian Mayer, Matthew Ebden, and Kei Nishikori.
Florian Mayer – The draw was busted wide open in the 3rd Round when the 28 year-old German dismissed Rafael Nadal 76(5) 63. While Florian was certainly mixing it up with his usual slicing and dicing, it was his improved serving that secured him this win as well as his best overall year on tour. Nadal never had a break point with Mayer winning 33 of 37 points when he got his first serve in.
In addition to his improved serve, Florian credits his best year on tour to his improved mental and physical fitness. He fully admits that when he had his first breakthrough of reaching the Wimbledon quarters in 2004, he simply was not ready for that level of success and attention thrust upon him. Many of the German players over the last 15 years have found it hard to handle the pressure of who would become the next Boris Becker.
While still a bit allergic to the spotlight, Florian is enjoying the fruits of his labor and patience now in 2011. Earlier this year he became the top ranked German player for the first time and finally surpassed his previous career-high ranking of 34. This time around he was more prepared to handle his success and the added pressure that comes with it. He carried this momentum even further to crack the Top 20 and win Bucharest for his first ATP title ever. His win over Nadal this week was just icing on his 2011 cake as you can see in his post-match interview.
Matthew Ebden – The 23 year-old Australian was ranked a career-high 124 going in to Shanghai this week, so he needed to play qualifying rounds like he does virtually every week. He dismissed former Top 40 players Florent Serra and Philipp Petzschner in quallies. After gaining entry to only his second Master Series main draw, he then cruised past #45 Pablo Andujar and #79 Ryan Harrison with ease.
One would think that Ebden would wake from this dream run against the steady #12 Gilles Simon, but this is the match that really made people take notice. As he often does even in his winning matches, Simon lost the first set 62 but it seemed like he regained control when he took the second by the same score. Ebden instead won a dramatic 10-8 tiebreak in the 3rd to set up a quarterfinal against Andy Murray.
While Murray looked strangely panicked in their first 6 games on serve, he then composed himself to win 63 62. Ebden will move inside the Top 100 for the first time to an estimated ranking of #80 tomorrow, and this should set himself up quite nicely for a 2012 full of many more main draw direct entries at the very least. He doesn’t like to be considered a late bloomer and explained, “‘I don’t know if you’d call it late; I mean, I’m 23. In a way, yes, but there’s probably only a handful of guys every year who are making it before the ages of 21, 22. The average age in the top 100 is about 26…I’m really trying to make it happen now. That’s where we’re heading.”
His compatriot Bernard Tomic also had a good week with a 2nd round win over Mardy Fish before losing to Alexandr Dolgopolov. Maybe it will help them both to share the pressure since there has been much scrutiny about the lack of talent after a long run of tennis legends. I would not be surprised if we also saw a few Aussies like Marinko Matosevic and Carsten Ball join the party in 2012. But this week is all Ebden, so take a look at his joy and composure after his big win over Gilles.
Kei Nishikori – Project 45 was completed in style earlier this week by the 21 year-old Japanese player. For three years now, many tennis fans have known and talked about Project 45 as Kei Nishikori’s has been quite open about his ranking goal of #45 in order to become the highest ranked Japanese player ever on the ATP. Nishikori secured his mission with a 67(1) 64 64 win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the 2nd round. Kei must have felt lucky to even have the opportunity to battle the World #8 in the 2nd round with how he played in the 1st round. He must have had Project 45 on his mind when he got bageled by Robin Haase in the 1st set before fighting back to win the next two hard-fought sets to complete the 06 75 76(5) victory.
Nishikori proceeded to back up his big victory over Tsonga with wins over Santiago Giraldo and Alexandr Dolgopolov to get to his first Master Series semi Actually, he has only once reached the 2nd Round of a Master Series so this was a week of many firsts for Nishikori. He lost quite meekly to Andy Murray 63 60 in the semis due to an ankle injury, and without his weapon of speed he looked quite lost out there. Time will tell if Kei Nishikori is the next tennis sensation that many have touted. He certainly should leave this week flying high after achieving Project 45, and he already made his next goal known in this new ad from Wilson.
I think Project 10 and/or Project Grand Slam will be a big ask, but let’s see if coach Brad Gilbert has the magic touch once again.