Men’s Singles – Round 4
Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs. Paul-Henri Mathieu (FRA)
Nadal moved by Nicolas Kiefer 6-2, 6-4 in the third round and looks very strong. Last year he reached the quarterfinals here before falling to the eventual champion, Novak Djokovic. He did get to the finals back in 2005, before falling to Roger Federer in a great five-set match.
Mathieu needed two hours to get by a very tough Carlos Moya in the third round. This is the second year in a row that he has reached the fourth round in Miami, and now he will try and get to the quarters for the first time in his career.
Nadal is 7-0 against Mathieu in his career, but Mathieu has kept a majority of those matches very close. We all know Mathieu has fantastic groundstrokes from both sides. His inside-in, inside-out forehand is his bread-and-butter shot and he will go to it as much as possible. He returns service extremely well, which will be a big key in this match.
The question I have for Mathieu is: Can he withstand the pressure of the high-heavy balls above his shoulder? Nadal is going to keep them coming throughout the match, and you know he is never going to relent. The farther Mathieu stands behind the baseline the less of a chance he has at winning this match. Mathieu will have to take chances, hit angled shots from the forehand side, and even take balls a little early. If the match is played during the day and in the heat, that will benefit Nadal tremendously. If it is at night, that will help Mathieu a little bit. I give the edge to Nadal in this match, but it’s going to be close.
Nick’s Pick – Nadal in 2 hard fought sets
James Blake (USA) vs. Radek Stepanek (CZE)
We all should praise Blake for his great three-set win over Fabrice Santoro in the third round. If you aren’t familiar with Santoro, or you didn’t see the match you don’t know what it takes to beat the feisty Frenchman. He drives you crazy, and it takes patience to defeat him. Congrats on a great win, James!
Stepanek got by Xavier Malisse 6-3, 7-6(4) in a tough match. Malisse had been playing great tennis in his first two matches, and when he is on his game he is extremely difficult to beat. Stepanek has been to the fourth round here four out of the last five years, but he has never gotten past that point. Will this year be his year?
Stepanek is 2-3 against Blake in his career, but he won their most recent match last year. Other than Jonas Bjorkman and Ivo Karlovic, Stepanek is one of the only players left on the ATP Tour that is serving and volleying on almost every point. In fact, I think he is coming into the net more than Karlovic! This will put pressure on Blake to come up with passing shots throughout the match. Blake must not let Stepanek get that close to the net; he must come in himself and catch the ball early. You know Blake has a great forehand and a smooth one-handed backhand, and both are going to have to be working in this match. I like the way Stepanek is playing right now, and I think his serve-and-volley style will frustrate Blake enough to get by him.
Nick’s Pick – Stepanek in 3 close sets