Rafa into the final – barely

A close match (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/ AFP/ Getty Images)

A close match (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/ AFP/ Getty Images)

It took 5 hours and 14 minutes, but Rafael Nadal survived his semi-final match against Fernando Verdasco. The match was full of fantastic shots and tight points – a total nail-biter. The final point spread between the two? 193 for Rafa; 192 for Nando. That’s how close it was.

For me, this was a frustrating match. It seemed that Nando was playing smarter and steadier than Rafa. He was rolling with the punches while Rafa often looked frazzled and out of sorts. For most of the match, Rafa was playing defensively – hitting short balls and letting Nando dictate the pace of the match. Many times, you couldn’t even see Rafa when Nando was serving because he was so far behind the line that he wasn’t in the camera shot. I’m still not entirely sure how Rafa won, but he did and he’s through to the final where he will play Federer.

After interviewing Rafa just as he walked off court, Brad Gilbert said Rafa looked entirely spent – emotionally and physically. He said Rafa was doubled over and his hands looked raw. He has tomorrow and Sunday morning to try and recover for the final – Fed had all of today, tomorrow and Sunday morning.

I’d also like to say that I really feel for Nando. He had a great tournament and played a fantastic match and to see it all come to an end on a double fault just hurt. He deserved a better end to the 2009 Australian Open than that.

My “as it happened” match notes after the break.

With the temperatures dropping to a more reasonable 29.7 C (86F), the roof was open for tonight’s super hot semi-final. The mind games between the contestants started off right away when each player acted like they were in no hurry to start the match – they took their time to attend the coin toss, took extra time to warm up and then took their time to get to the service line. Nando looked like he was doing his best to not be a typical Rafa opponent – waiting around for Rafa to get started.

When they finally did start, both guys came out firing. Nando had a break point in the forth game, but missed a fairly easy overhead into an open court to bring things to deuce. Rafa held and the score was two all. In the all important 5-6 game, Nando got ahead of Rafa’s serve with a few smoking shots to reach 15-30, but a few loose shots later and they were at 40-30. A few deuces later, Rafa serves out the game with two aces to tie things up at 5-5. Rafa got a break point in the next game, but Nando answered with an ace and went on to hold despite another break point against. Rafa won a tight twelfth game to take the first set into a tiebreak.

After some wonderful shot-making from both players, Rafa got the first mini-break on the forth tiebreak point. Two points later, Nando got the mini-break back with a smartly placed volley. At 4-5 with Rafa serving, Nando got the luckiest net-cord I’ve ever seen to earn two set points. He only needed one of them to take the first set anyone has managed to take off Rafa in the tournament.

Both players started off the next set holding at love. On the change-over between the fifth and sixth game, the chair gave Rafa a bit of a warning about coaching. Rafa was not happy about this at all saying that Uncle Toni wasn’t doing anything. At this point, all I could think of was that we were in some alternate universe where Rafa was the one easily frazzled and Nando was the king of calm. Nando got up to a love-30 lead on Rafa’s next service game, but Rafa won the next 4 points to tie things up at 3-3. Rafa buckled down big time in the next game and managed to get a break point despite some excellent serving from Nando – including an ace that Rafa challenged by pointing to a mark that was way out of the box only to have Hawkeye show a serve that was very, very in. The shot making in this game was huge as both players knew it was important. At one point, Rafa was up an Ad and his string broke on a shot sending the ball flying and taking them back to deuce. Nando won the next two points and the set was leveled at four all. In the tenth game, Rafa won an impossible point with a shot that was so scary good all Nando could do was smile. That point gave Rafa a break point and he capitalized on it right away taking the second set 6-4.

Rafa got a few break points in the second game of the third set when Nando started missing his first serve and pushing a bit on his shots. Nando fought back to deuce a few times. Then, as he did in the first set, he stopped play to challenge a call only to lose the challenge by millimeters and give Rafa yet another break point. Nando again fought back to deuce only to miss a sitter volley to give Rafa another break point – and this time, Rafa capitalized on it and went up a service break. Nando was having none of that, however, and went up 0-40 on Rafa’s next service game. Rafa gave him the game on the next point with an errant forehand.

The next game saw Rafa struggling to get a first serve in and hitting his balls very short. Nando got a break point, but Rafa managed to hold on. Rafa ran and ran (and ran a bit more) in the next game and managed to break back. In game seven, Rafa hit his first backhand winner of the match. Yes. It took until game seven of the third set for him to hit a backhand winner. He also had yet another unforced error on his forehand to give Nando a break point which Nando happily ran with to get back on serve again. He consolidated that by holding the next game. They held serves to 6-6 forcing a tiebreak.

Rafa got the first tiebreak mini-break when Nando sent a forehand sailing long. Nando handed Rafa another mini-break to send him up 4-1. He held his next service point, but another error gave Rafa 5-2. Rafa served it out to take the second set.

Showing that he wasn’t going to let that tiebreak bother him, Nando started off the fourth set with an easy hold. Rafa held fairly easily as well. Nando’s next service game had multiple deuce points, but no break points against and he held. Nando called the trainer after that game, but didn’t take an injury time out. The trainer gave him a bit of a massage on his left calf/shin during the standard change-over time. Rafa held the next game at love and it looked like Nando’s movement was a bit off. During the next change-over, the trainer did more work on Nando’s left shin. He didn’t seem to have much, if any, movement problems after that.

In the eighth game, they played an unbelievable point that brought Rafa, literally, to his knees and yet he still somehow managed to win the point and hold serve. Nando went on to hold his next service game at love to take them to 4-5 and into their fourth hour on court. Nando got to 30-all in the next game (2 points from the set), but Rafa managed to hold to take them to 5-5. Both players held to take the match into its third tiebreaker.

The tiebreaker started off with a scorcher of a point – Nando running Rafa all over the court and ending up with a winning forehand. Another scorching forehand forced an error from Rafa and put Nando up a mini-break. Not content with that, he hit yet another amazing forehand to go up 3-0. A well-placed drop shot and a forehand into the net from Rafa took Nando to 5-0. He followed that up with a blistering return that set him up with many set points. Rafa got his first point of the tiebreak on an errant forehand from Nando. But a service winner on the next point got Nando the fourth set and Rafa his worst tiebreaker beat-down ever.

Rafa started the fifth set holding at love. He got a break point on Nando’s first service game, but Nando saved it with an ace and went on to hold. In the sixth game, Nando double-faulted to give Rafa a break point, but he managed a service winner after that to take things back to deuce and went on to hold taking things to 3-3. Just after the match hit the five hour mark, Rafa got a break point on Nando’s serve, but a scorching forehand from Nando that landed squarely on the line saved the break. On the very next shot, Nando sent a forehand sailing long and Rafa had his second break point. He too, however, sent a forehand long and it was back to deuce leaving him zero for five on break points in the set. Nando held to take things to 4-4.

Nando came out swinging in the next game and went up 0-30 on Rafa’s serve. Rafa came back, won four points in a row and held serve. Nando ran Rafa ragged on the first point of the 4-5 game, but Rafa managed to win it and then go up 0-30. Nando double faulted to give Rafa triple match point. Nando saved the first match point with an excellent serve and overhead. He saved the second with another good serve and a forehand volley. He double faulted on the last match point and Rafa took the match.

Some stats for Rafa:
Aces: 12
Double Faults: 3
1st Serve %: 73% (128/176)
Win % on 1st serve: 72% (92/128)
Win % on 2nd serve: 58% (28/48)
Winners: 52
Unforced Errors: 25
Receiving Points Won: 36% (77/216)
Break Point Conversions: 20% (4/20)
Total Points Won: 193 (to Nando’s 192)
Net Approaches: 70% (16/23)

2 Responses

  1. Manhattan says:

    Congrats to all Rafa’s fan!
    I share the same opinion, Fernando was more deserved than Rafa

  2. Okiegal says:

    I don’t think Nando deserved the win. They were both gutting it out in that match. Both guys made some fantastic shot. Shame someone had to lose…but the best player got the win!! Vamos Rafa!!