Cincinnati: The Need for Speed
Could someone have hidden Rebound Ace under that paint? Cincinnati has seen a lot of success by speedy players in the early rounds.
Topping that list, of course, was Michael Chang, who posted arguably his best result since Washington 2001 by getting to the third round. To, but not through. Chang ran into Carlos Moya, who has had his own share of slow hardcourt success. There were quite a few long games along the way. But it was Moya who won the ones that counted. He's in the quarterfinal -- and one win away from costing Pete Sampras his top sixteen seed at the U. S. Open. Moya beat Chang -- who despite losing will at least be back in the Top 100 -- 6-4 6-3.
Rainer Schuettler is another speedy player, but even in the midst of the best year of his career, he'd never done much at the top events. And he was to face Xavier Malisse, whose game seems made for this surface. No matter. Schuettler strengthened his grip on a spot in the Top 25 with a 6-4 6-3 win.
If you're looking for speed, of course, the first name you're likely to think of is Lleyton Hewitt -- and Hewitt got off to the best start of anyone there, winning his first seventeen straight games.
It didn't take long for that streak to end at the hands of Jarkko Nieminen. (Another speedy player, we might note.) Nieminen served first, and held, and that was that. The fact that Hewitt came out slowly didn't hurt either. Nieminen took the first set rather easily. But then Hewitt started to crank things up, and Nieminen couldn't keep it up, and Hewitt advanced 2-6 6-2 6-3.
In the quarterfinal, Hewitt will take on Andre Agassi in the only contest to involve two seeds. Agassi took on another big baseline hitter in Thomas Enqvist -- but, yes, Agassi is faster, and he also plays a more complete game. There were a lot of tough games, but Agassi came through 6-4 7-5.
The match between Juan Carlos Ferrero also featured speed versus power. And a hot player (Dent) versus one who is not doing very well at the moment (Ferrero). It was literal strength (Dent's power) versus metaphoric strength (Ferrero's baseline skills) -- and it was close. Dent, as befits a big server, won the first set in a tiebreak. Ferrero took charge in the second, but the third went to a tiebreak. At 3-3, Ferrero double-faulted -- but then got the point back, and the next, on fine baseline play. He served out a 6-7 6-1 7-6 win.
There was one exception to the speed versus power rule: Tommy Robredo is a lot faster than Wayne Arthurs -- but Arthurs has The Serve. It was just good enough; Arthurs continued his progress with a 7-6 4-6 6-4 win. It's getting harder to move up now, given how far he's climbed -- but it looks like he'll be around #54 next week.
In theory, Wayne Ferreira should have had a chance against Andy Roddick. He's good at feeding off a server's power, and he does a pretty good job of holding onto his own serve. So it says in the scouting report. But Andy Roddick is good at making the scouting report look bad. He pushed Ferreira so far off the baseline that Ferreira all but abandoned his return game. It showed in the results; Roddick, except for one glitch at the start of the second set, was in total control on serve (frankly, this standing way back against Roddick looks like a mug's game -- he just serves wide, and you've made your chances of reaching his serve worse, not better. Plus you can't do anything with the returns). Roddick makes his second straight Masters quarterfinal with a 6-3 6-2 win.
Fernando Gonzalez vs. Richard Krajicek seemed almost a throwback to a couple of decades ago: The go-for-broke netrusher versus the baseline claycourter. But the balls were moving about twice as fast. Gonzalez, after a fine spring, didn't have much of an early summer, but he seems to have come back reinvigorated. (Like Krajicek, for that matter.) Krajicek was serving bombs, but Gonzalez was packing some heat of his own, and Krajicek seemed to have real trouble reading his variety of shots. Gonzalez won the day's final singles match 6-2 3-6 6-3.