AUGUST 7, by Paula Schumann
The weather was perfect for tennis on Saturday afternoon at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic as the first semifinal singles match got underway inside the Stadium
Court. Marco Baghdatis (CYP) faced Xavier Malisse (BEL) in a match whose
outcome seemed anyone’s guess. There was no favorite and no underdog.
The stadium was still filling up as the match began with Malisse serving. He
held his serve easily and seemed calm and confident. Baghdatis got off to a shaky start when his service game went to deuce twice before holding. But as
things progressed you could see the two styles of play establish a certain rhythm
that would prevail throughout the match. Mallise played deep from the back of
the court, confident with his seemingly effortless ground strokes, and Baghdatis
worked from inside the baseline, coming in to take points at the net.
Baghdatis continued to rush the net, forcing errors from Malisse who started
to play a little more tentatively, and got an early break, then held his serve to
take the lead at 4-1. At 5-1, Malisse seemed to collect himself and rallied after
Baghdatis missed an easy overhead. This shot elicited a collective “oooh” from
the crowd as every tennis player in the stadium could relate. Malisse responded
with a down the line winner and held his serve for 5-2. Baghdatis served for
the set and held by putting away an almost identical overhead as the one he
missed in the earlier game. You could see in his face and his footwork, as he
was setting up to hit the shot, that this one was going to be a winner. It was, and
he took the first set 6-2.
Malisse served to open the second set and still seemed calm and focused. But
Baghdatis was in the zone, remaining consistent and allowing Malisse to make
his own errors. They continued with long rallies, ripping down the line shots and
beautifully angled volleys. Still on serve at 2-1, Baghdatis served and Malisse
challenged two calls back to back, temporarily breaking Baghdatis’ rhythm. But
Baghdatis held and there suddenly appeared to be a slight crack in the calm
exterior of Malisse. He was shaking his head in apparent disappointment at
missed opportunities to take the lead. At 3-3, Malisse was audibly talking to
himself after making an unforced error, but managed to hold his serve. Both
players started to seem a bit affected by the driving sun, taking longer between
Baghdatis served next and just as the point ended, taking the score to deuce, he
dropped to the ground, clutching his lower leg and writhing in pain. The crowd
was on their feet at the suddenness of the turn of events. The trainer came out
and they called a medical time out. It was unclear what exactly had happened,
but soon Baghdatis was back up and on the court, the crowd cheering him on.
He served an ace and got the score back to ad in. He won the next point and
held serve at 4-4. The sun started to go behind an occasional cloud, giving the
players and the fans some periodic relief. At 5-5, Malisse served at ad out and
challenged an out call, which spot shot confirmed to be out. Baghdatis got the
break for the lead, 6-5. There had been a few complaints from players regarding
the accuracy of the shot spot, and again when a man behind me yelled out ,”Shot
spot stinks!” Malisse had no more challenges.
Malisse suddenly seemed fired up as he hit a forehand down the line winner,
grabbing the first point of the next game. Baghdatis followed up with a 122 mph
ace for 15-15. But Malisse went on to dictate play and managed to brake back
and level the score at 6-6. A tie break for the set ensued and Baghdatis got an
early mini break and grabbed the lead at 3-1. Malisse seemed to lose focus,
missing shots and suddenly it was 5-1 Baghdatis. Malisse almost appeared to
have given up the fight, as Baghdatis delivered a 127 mph serve, rushed in and
dropped the ball over the net. 6-1. Malisse managed to hold his serve, then at
6-3, Baghdatis double faulted. 6-4. The next point played out with a long rally,
each player cutting great angles, but it ended with Malisse hitting the ball into the
net, ending the set and the match. Final score 6-2 7-6(4).
Up next was the first semifinal doubles match between Tomas Berdych (CZE)/
Radek Stepanek (CZE) and Julian Knowle (AUT)/Andy Ram (ISR). The match
played out to a half empty stadium, ending in Berdych/Stepanek d Knowle/Ram
5-7 6-2 10-4.
Around 7 pm the second semifinal singles match between David Nalbandian
(ARG) and Marin Cilic (CRO) got started under ideal conditions and an almost
full house. Again, the crowd seemed unsure of whom to root for and the match
progressed with high level of play but not much in the way of drama. Both
players broke each other’s serves in the first set, but Nalbandian quickly got
control and dictated play to take the set 6-2.
Nalbandian served to open the second set and held with a beautiful backhand
slice volley on the last point. Cilic served next, but he maked two unforced errors
and was down 0-30. At 15-40, Nalbandian had a chance to break, but Cilic won
the next point with a 107 mph serve. Then, Nalbandian ran around his backhand
to deliver a put away shot, getting the break and leading 2-1. At 3-0, Celic held
his serve on what would prove to be the most exciting point of the match. After
a long rally, Nalbandian’s shot pops up and Cilic seized the opportunity to make
an amazing overhead, only to have it returned by Nalbandian with a fierce angle,
low. But Cilic is there and finished off the point with a down the line winner.
But Cilic couldn’t maintain the momentum, and at 5-2, he stepped up to serve.
At 15-15, he made an unforced error, then double faulted. The crowd clearly
wants more tennis and they cheer him along as he served at match point. But
Cilic just about gave it away and Nalbandian takes the game, the set and the
match in just a little over an hour. Final score 6-2 6-2. As Nalbanian raised his
arms to the stands, his expression appeared to hint that he got off way too easy.
The last match of the day was the second of the semi final doubles. With the
last US player standing, the duo of Mardy Fish (USA)/Mark Knowles (BAH) took
on the pair who ousted the Bryan brothers, Rohan Bopanna (IND)/Aisam-Ul-
Haq Qureshi (PAK). For those fans that opted not to stay, they missed out on
probably the best match of the day. Though neither set went to a tie break, the
action was intense, both teams making spectacular passing shots and endless
lightning fast volleys. At times, from the stands, the court looked like the old
school pong video game.
With only the interruption of some disruptive giant moths that fluttered down onto
the court and were wrestled down by obliging ball boys, the match continued to
delight the crowd, whose enthusiasm grew with each passing game. They were
clearly behind the home team, but cheers were heard for both sides whenever
a winner was made. Fish/Knowles took the first set and went on to take the
second with the final score 7-5 7-5.
Sunday’s final matches will be the doubles starting off at 12:30 and the singles
not before 3 pm.