by Craig Hickman
After Nikolay Davydenko defeated Guillermo Canas in straight sets, he all but admitted that he wouldn't be able to defeat Roger Federer in the semifinals.
In a match devoid of energy and reminiscent of their 2006 Melbourne semifinal, Davydenko's words were prescient. Simply put, Davydenko couldn't close out a set. Up a break in the first with umpteen chances to go up two breaks, Davydenko couldn't close out games. He lost that set. Serving for the second set at 5-4, Davydenko missed first serve after first serve and couldn't get the job done. Serving for the third set at 5-3, despite after earning two set points, he couldn't even take that set.
It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: You can't win a match if you can't win a set. Kolya let a sluggish Raja off the hook. Again. And again. And again.
Some have suggested Kolya is a weakminded fool. You won't hear an argument from me. Other's have suggested Kolya handed Raja this match on a silver platter. I haven't another opinion to offer.
Jimmy Connors has claimed in no uncertain terms that Raja should be very grateful because he's surrounded by players who "let him run away with it." Again, my lips are sealed.
Mary Carillo, one of the three calling the match, said it was painful to watch the Russian's late-set collapses. That Davydenko would walk off the court a straight-set loser when he could've been a straight set winner. It wasn't nerves, she said, it was a lack of self-belief. Nuff said.
Roger accepts his gift willingly and will play Rafael Nadal in a repeat of 2006. I'm just soooooooo excited.
Rafa had his own trouble closing out feisty Novak Djokovic. He served for the first set at 5-2 and 5-4, but didn't shut the door till he prevailed 7-5. In the second set, he served at 5-4, 40-15, only to face a break point after a nervous dropshot landed in the net. But he recovered to take a two set to love lead. After that, Novak capitulated, winning only two more games. The Serb's run in Paris ended at Rafa's hands once more.
Will Raja bring his Wilanders (read: his testicular fortitude, his balls, his guts) to the final this year? Will Raja feel certain he's going to beat Rafa and know exactly how he's going to do it as he claimed after Hamburg? Will Raja make more history? Will Rafa?
I suppose these questions alone should get me up early on Sunday morning to see, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.
One thing is certain. Whatever happens, Rafa won't let Raja run away with it. That itself will be worth watching.