Copyright The New York Times
SHANGHAI, Nov. 14â€š Is men’s tennis finally becoming more competitive?
Certainly, there has been a proliferation of hints to that effect, judging from the second half of a long season. And the hints have continued here this week in the year-ending Masters Cup, a round-robin tournament that brings together the world’s eight top-ranked players.
Already, the top-four seeded players have been defeated, including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have divided most of the big prizes between them the last three years.
Federer was defeated by Fernando GonzâˆšÂ°lez of Chile, who has been regarded for much of his career as a journeyman with a somewhat one-dimensional game, built around a cannon of a forehand.
Against GonzâˆšÂ°lez, Federer, the world’s No. 1 player, said that he played so solidly that he could find any fault with his own game. Bit GonzâˆšÂ°lez, who has shown flashes of promise elsewhere in the past year, served impressively and repeatedly froze Federer with what had always been an afterthought in his game, his backhand.
GonzâˆšÂ°lez’s victory broke a streak of losing 10 matches in a row against Federer.
Even more unusual was that GonzâˆšÂ°lez’s victory marked Federer’s second consecutive loss, coming a few days after his defeat at the hands of another player who has long been thought of as a journeyman, David Nalbandian of Argentina.
The last time Federer lost two matches in a row was more than four years ago. Nadal, the world’s No. 2 player, won his first match Sunday against Richard Gasquet of France, but it was not easy.
Gasquet won the first set, 6-3, repeatedly answering Nadal’s sharply angled forehands with powerfully struck forehands of his own, and proving he had Nadal’s game thoroughly figured out.
That Gasquet could dominate with his forehand, with a well-struck serve and with convincing net play, and not with his backhand, which is one of the game’s most celebrated strokes, made his performance even more remarkable.
Nadal went on to win the match, but through his sheer perseverance more than anything else, and he seemed relieved at the end.