By Sean Rudolph
© Charles Cowins
(October 14, 2010) Jurgen Melzer had just seen Rafael Nadal erase three match points as he stepped up to serve for one of the biggest victories of his career. Nadal had visions of yet another comeback, but Melzer was in no mood to cooperate. The 13th-seeded Melzer served out the match at love to wrap up a monumental 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory over the World No. 1 to storm into the Shanghai Rolex Masters quarterfinals.
It was Melzer's first career victory over a World No. 1. Melzer, who entered the match with a 9-43 career record against top players, advanced to his 11th quarterfinal of the season and kept his hopes alive of qualifying for the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals at London's O2 Arena, November 21-28th.
"I think the key was to put a lot of pressure on him," Melzer said. "You cannot let him play his game. You'll always be second. That play with his forehand, he's just too good. So I tried to take the ball early. I was serving really well, especially on big moments. I executed my game plan, which was putting a lot of pressure, especially on his forehand."
Nadal, who swept Gael Monfils to collect his seventh title of the season and 43rd of his career in Tokyo on Sunday, said he felt a step slow and lacked consistent depth on his shots.
"I felt slow on court," said Nadal. "I had more mistakes than usual. I played shorter than usual. [I was] a little bit more tired than usual, just physically and mentally. [I] just [want to] congratulate him. It's true, he played very aggressive, but [it] wasn't very difficult [to] play that aggressive against me today."
Before Nadal stumbled out, second-ranked Novak Djokovic streaked on into the quarterfinals. Djokovic destroyed Richard Gasquet, 6-1, 6-1 to advance to his 13th quarterfinal in 16 tournament starts this season. Fresh off capturing his 18th career title at the China Open in Beijing in Monday's rain-delayed final, Djokovic extended his winning streak to seven matches. Djokovic, who has won 14 of his last 15 matches with his lone loss in that span coming to Nadal in the US Open final, will play Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the quarters. Garcia-Lopez surprised seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych, 7-6(4), 6-3.
In a clash of left-handers, Melzer's ability to take the ball earlier than Nadal and press the issue at net paid dividends. The World No. 12 from Vienna hit 37 winners, including 14 aces, compared to 17 winners from Nadal, who committed 27 unforced errors.
Serving with authority when it mattered most, Melzer won all 13 points played on his first serve in the last set and surrendered only four points on serve in the final set.
The 29-year-old Austrian will face Juan Monaco for a spot in the final four. Monaco mauled Mischa Zverev, 6-0, 6-2 in 65 minutes. The winner of the Melzer-Monaco match will meet either fourth-seeded Andy Murray or 12th-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Saturday's semifinals.
The Nadal-Melzer match was a rematch of the Roland Garros semifinals, which Nadal won 6-2, 6-3, 7-6(6). Melzer had not won a set against Nadal in three prior meetings, but immediately imposed his game on the top-seeded Spaniard, smacking seven of his 14 aces in storming through the opening set as Nadal looked utterly powerless to halt the onslaught.
"To be honest, I learned from the last matches," Melzer said. "The first one at the Olympics was a blowout. Then I think I played a very good match [at Roland Garros] against him. Although I lost in three sets, I was very close in winning one. Clay is his best surface. I'm very happy."
Forced to defend throughout the opening set, Nadal sent a running forehand beyond the baseline to conclude a nine-minute game that saw him drop serve and fall behind 1-5. Melzer swatted a service winner to serve out the opening set at 15.
Nadal, who saved match points in his his 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(7) semifinal victory over Viktor Troicki in the Japan Open semifinals on Saturday, stormed back in the second set.
The nine-time Grand Slam champion fought off a break point to hold for 2-1. Three games later, Melzer tried to serve and volley on second serve, but blocked a backhand volley into net to face break point. Melzer again tried attacking the net and paid the price as Nadal leaned into a clean backhand pass to break for 4-2, electrifying the pro-Nadal crowd.
Undeterred, Melzer began dictating play again in the third set.
Feeling the pressure, Nadal hit an inside-out forehand wide as Melzer broke for 4-2 pumping a clenched fist toward his coach, Joakim Nystrom.
Melzer cranked a crosscourt forehand winner for 30-0, followed with an ace, then hooked a second straight ace out wide holding in one minute, 14 seconds to stretch his lead to 5-2.
In the following game, Melzer measured a mid-court ball and spanked a forehand winner crosscourt to reach double match point at 15-40. A Melzer backhand was called long, but he challenged and replay showed the ball touched the back of the baseline. The point was replayed and a distracted Melzer netted a return as Nadal saved the first match point. A Nadal ace erased the second match point and when Melzer netted a forehand sitter Nadal had saved three match points, eventually holding for 3-5.
Melzer has had a tendency to tighten up in pressure moments in the past. Not today. Serving for the match, he blasted a backhand winner up th eline and followed with an exquisite backhand drop volley winner and a service winner to collect three more match points. He finished the one hour, 59-minute match when Nadal netted a forehand.