After crushing Robin Soderling and cooling off Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer couldn't finish things off at the Shanghai Masters. Nemesis Andy Murray beat the Swiss in Sunday's finale to boost his confidence in what's been an up-and-down 2010 season. Rafael Nadal, meanwhile, paid the price for overplaying.
Here are five things we learned from the season's second-to-last Masters 1000 event:
Federer has a dilemma facing Murray
Federer's more aggressive approach under new co-coach Paul Annacone is a good thing. But coming forward and transitioning against Murray are extremely difficult, since the Scot's movement is outstanding. He loves a target, and his passing shots -- either an outright pass or a first one that sets up a second -- are so effective.
Federer, of course, knows all that. More than once Sunday, he hit a shot from just inside the baseline, then pondered whether he should move in, rather than instinctively doing so. It's the kind of indecision Federer exhibits facing Nadal.
Despite the 6-3, 6-2 score, Federer had opportunities in both sets, going 0-6 on break points. In the bigger picture, the loss won't affect him. Federer likes his chances against Murray in a best-of-five Slam format. We've seen Murray beat everyone outside the majors before, only to stumble when it really matters.
Rafa needs a better scheduler
The writing was on the wall when Nadal faced Jurgen Melzer in the third round. Producing a stunning winner in the opening set, the world's top-ranked player offered a tame, windmill-like fist pump, nothing like we're used to seeing. There was no energy. Further, prematch, he offered up one of those worrying little looks to his support team. Melzer walked away with a 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory.
Nadal elected to compete three straight weeks on his least preferred surface in Asia, reaching the semifinals in Bangkok and winning in Tokyo prior to Shanghai. Maybe he felt bad after pulling out of Bangkok last year.
Given his knee problems and lock on the No. 1 ranking, piling up matches in Asia made no sense.
Nadal, more sensibly, has only two more events in 2010, the Paris Masters and year-end championships.
Soderling is too pumped facing Fed
Soderling must hope he meets Federer this week in Stockholm, wanting to erase memories of Friday's 6-1, 6-1 demolition job, this coming on the heels of his disappointing loss in the U.S. Open quarterfinals.
The Swede overly presses against Federer, wishing to end rallies quickly rather than working the point a little. He went for too many lines -- and missed -- not giving himself margin for error. Concurrently, Federer's ability to change speeds and come up with short angles still bamboozles Soderling.
Melzer is for real
Yes, Rafa was tired. But a tired Rafa manages to beat an overwhelming majority of players outside the top 10.
Belief is vital for Melzer, and he grew in confidence after fending off early break points.
It's a pity the super-gifted Melzer couldn't get past Rafa's good buddy Juan Monaco -- a workmanlike pro if ever there was one -- in the quarterfinals. Melzer needs more points to qualify for the year-end championships. Melzer or Mikhail Youzhny would add a little spice to London, unlike David Ferrer (as much as we like him) or Fernando Verdasco. You just know the Spaniards would go 0-3 in London.
By the way, Melzer combined with Indian veteran Leander Paes to down the No. 1 team in doubles, the Bryan brothers, in Shanghai.
"I think he's one of the most hard-working and talented players I've seen over the past 20 years I've been on the tour," Paes told the ATP Tour.
There's a slight disconnect
The Shanghai Masters was voted the top tournament in its class last year by the players. It must be because they're pampered even more than usual. But there were some issues:
The atmosphere. No one was in the stands for afternoon encounters. You could count the number of spectators on the second show court.
The location. The tennis complex lies away from the city center, and players have complained about the long journey -- potentially more than an hour -- to the site.
The ball kids. For the everyday hacker, they did a great job. However, the delay in receiving towels between points visibly irked a few of the elite.
And how do you explain a 1-hour, 15-minute rain delay when there's a retractable roof over center court?