Competitive right from the start, Fish and Nadal waste no time and each player even ends up losing a challenge early as well. The interesting aspect of the games is return of serve. Fish, as has been the case through his run, starts out about three or four feet behind the baseline, but quickly moves in to jump on the serve as soon as it rises off the bounce. Mastering the focus to take an early return means he’s able to create an advantage, seizing the power from the server. Nadal generally likes to settle in further behind the baseline, but with such pressure from Fish, he tries to step in himself, into a position that it is obviously less comfortable for him. This is not the kind of adjustment that Nadal used to make during games or even during a set, but he finds himself tweaking his strategy more and more, at first in connection to the Djokovic onslaught and now there is carryover to others, like Fish.
(View Brian Taylor's Fish vs. Nadal match photos here.)
Fish gets his first real break opportunity at 2-1 and the crowd feels the momentum begin to shift. Nadal double faults and Fish secures the break with an efficient hold of serve (now 4-1). Nadal grits out his next two service games, but Fish, in command, takes the first set 6-3.
Even as the level of play increases from Nadal in the second set, there is never any doubt that Fish won’t capture this key win and advance to the semifinals. He is simply, as I’ve said all week, playing like he knows he can and should win each and every point. Nadal and Federer used to have that confidence; Djokovic certainly has it at the moment. In fact, those three players have that and something else. They have (or had, in the case of Nadal and Federer) an internal switch to flip that sends their game into turbo mode when necessary. I’m not sure that Fish has that switch, but more importantly, it doesn’t seem like he needs it (or would even want it). His renewed approach centers on being in each point, doing whatever it takes to win. He’s not holding anything back. Fish just gets into gear right off the bat and it seems to be working fine.
Brian Taylor was able to provide live coverage of the Djokovic-Monfils match, another powerful slugfest with real implications for the U.S. Open. Djokovic won (in three sets), but keep an eye on the Frenchman.
(View Brian Taylor's Djokovic-Monfils match photos here.)