Fish-Querrey final questions the SW19 chances of big guns

SO who has been the big beneficiary of the second AEGON Championships? Sam Querrey, who beat Rainer Schuettler 6-7, 7-5, 6-3 in yesterday's first semi-final? Mardy Fish, who will meet his fellow American in today's final after defeating Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 6-4 in the second semi?

Or what about Roger Federer? While his major rivals were tumbling out of this competition – Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Andy Roddick in the third round, Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals – Federer was strolling on serenely at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle.

When you have won Wimbledon six times already you may well not need a morale boost as you prepare for this year's championships, but the past week has been full of encouraging signs nonetheless for the world No 2. The defeat of the top seeds here is not in itself a major issue – this tournament is first and foremost a warm-up for the third Grand Slam of the year, and only second a desirable title to win – but in most cases the manner in which they lost definitely is a concern.

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None of the top four played anything like his best tennis here, even in flashes. That is hardly a worry for Nadal, who was in imperious form as recently as a week ago when he won the French Open final, but it is for the other three.

Murray, in particular, has been flat for some time. Even the one win he managed in the defence of the title, against overweight Spaniard Ivan Navarro, was laboured.

Djokovic lost to former Wimbledon semi-finalist Xavier Malisse, and Roddick was knocked out by Dudi Sela, who reached the fourth round at SW19 last year. Yet, while their opponents have some pedigree on grass, the Serb and the American at their best would have disposed of them with something to spare.

So why did they not? As Nadal pointed out, one of the factors which make this tournament more of a level playing field than most is the fact the switch from clay to grass is made so swiftly.

"I would love it," the world No 1 said when asked if he would like a bigger gap in the calendar between Roland Garros and Wimbledon, which would allow for a longer transition from one surface to the other. "But we have to do a shorter calendar.

"I don't know where we're going to find the weeks. But sure, when you played a very good clay season, it's crazy to only have two weeks to play and to practise on grass. But at the same time, you know how difficult it is to change the calendar, and I don't know how we can do it."

The fact that four outsiders reached the semi-finals – Querrey, at No 7, was the highest surviving seed – also illustrates the depth in the men's game. Schuettler is ranked down at 82 in the world, but he is a former Australian Open finalist. Fish is 90th, but has been in the top 20 and is heading back in the right direction. Lopez is 31st, Querrey 23rd, and around that level there are a number of players whose sheer power will always make them dangerous on grass.

Furthermore, while the focus has inevitably been on the big names' defeats, those who vanquished them deserve considerable credit for rising to the occasion. Querrey was particularly impressive yesterday, fighting back from the loss of a very tight first set to get the better of his German opponent.

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"I thought it was pretty consistent," the 22-year-old San Franciscan said. "Couple little slip-ups or opportunities I had late in the first set there, but I thought I served unbelievable the whole match. I did a good job getting through it."

His compatriot Fish, who is also coached by South African David Nainkin, had a slightly more straightforward job against Lopez to set up the first all-American final since 1994, when Todd Martin beat Pete Sampras. Afterwards, Fish, who beat Murray in three sets on Friday, suggested there was no way the Scot should feel downhearted about losing to him.

"Hopefully I'm not that bad of a loss, first of all. It's not the preparation he had last year, (but] my hunch is he'll figure it out.

"I mean, he's one of the best grass court players in the world, and (that was] certainly one of the best wins of my career, especially on this surface. He'll only grow – he'll only get more and more experience from matches like that."

Leading life and pensions company AEGON is the lead partner of British Tennis, supporting the game at all levels from grass roots to centre court.