Photo by Seppe Van Grieken/Getty Images

Photo by Seppe Van Grieken/Getty Images

In the semi-final of the China Open, Rafa took on #15 Marin Cilic of Croatia. It was the first meeting between the two players – let’s hope this doesn’t set the tone for their tour relationship. Cilic was on fire; Rafa looked like he was half awake. Cilic flipped to the “How to beat Rafa on Hard Courts” section of the players’ manual and executed the game plan spelled out there to perfection. He rolls over Rafa: 6-1 6-3.


Nadal Cilic
Statistics on Serve
Aces 0 8
Double Faults 0 0
1st Serve % 68% 65%
1st Serve Points Won 18/36 (50%) 24/31 (77%)
2nd Serve Points Won 6/17 (35%) 9/17 (53%)
Break Points Saved 8/13 (62%) 1/2 (50%)
Service Games Played 8 8
Statistics on Return
1st Return Points Won 7/31 (23%) 18/36 (50%)
Second Return Points Won 8/17 (47%) 11/17 (65%)
Break Points Won 1/2 (50%) 5/13 (38%)
Return Games Played 8 8
Statistics on Points
Total Service Points Won 24/53 (45%) 33/48 (69%)
Total Return Points Won 15/48 (31%) 29/53 (55%)
Total Points Won 39/101 (39%) 62/101 (61%)

As it happened blatherings:

Mo in the chair. Rafa won the toss and will receive.

Cilic serving to start us off. Rafa sends a shot long and it’s 15-0. Flings another shot wide: 30-0. Ace. Cilic holds at love.

Cilic hits a hard backhand winner: 0-15. His forehand pulls Rafa wide and Rafa slices a backhand wide: 0-30. Again, he pulls Rafa wide and draws an error: triple break point. Rafa scores his first point of the match as Cilic nets a ball: double break point. Cilic blisters a backhand return and breaks Rafa: 0-2.

Ace from Cilic. Rafa sends a ball long: 30-0. Rafa nets a ball: 40-0. Cilic holds at love. 0-3

Rafa does not look with colm on the changeover.

Rafa nets a ball: 0-15. Rafa moves Cilic a bit better and Cilic sends a ball long: 15-15. Cilic pounces on a short ball: 15-30. Again: 15-40. Rafa totally shanks a shot and he’s down 0-4.

Service winners from Cilic. Rafa floats a shot and Cilic has triple game point. Cilic holds again at love. 0-5. Rafa’s only won 2 points in the set. He’s trying to play close to the baseline, but isn’t getting enough time to line up his shots.

Oddly enough, Rafa looked more colm on that changeover.

TennisLuvah: Rafa is getting his ass kicked. lmao this is just funny now, sorry :D
Ataraxis00: Cilic is a game away from the set in 15 minutes. What the …

Hey, a point! Rafa won a point! Second serve. Another shot sent wide: 15-15. Cilic sends a shot wide: 30-15. Cilic muffs a shot and Rafa has a game point. Rafa holds. Thank goodness, my flu tummy isn’t ready for a bagel – unless it’s made of jello.

Ace for Cilic. Flubs a shot. Ace: 30-15. Excellent. That’s just what Rafa needs – a longer rally so he can get the feel back: 30-30. Sends a return long: 40-30. First set to Cilic in just 23 minutes.

Ataraxis00: Pride prevents the bagel. There’s that at least, I suppose.

1st return points won for Rafa: 7%

TennisLuvah: ROFL at those Spanish fans! They’re pissed! XD
TennisLuvah: Marin is on fire and wins the first set 6-1, nothing Rafa could really do. Time to regoup, bb!
@TennisLuvah He could have hit more balls into the court…
TennisLuvah: True. Rafa is playing like shit. And Marin is not.

Rafa starts off the second set serving. The guys work some angles, but Rafa errs and it’s 0-15. Excellent point ends up with Cilic at the net and hitting a winner: 0-30. Rafa shanks another ball and Cilic has triple break point. Second serve. Cilic nets a ball: 15-40. Rafa floats a slice backhand and draws an error: 30-40. Cilic breaks.

Cilic nets a high backhand: 15-15. Short angled winner from Cilic: 30-15. Rafa’s still trying to play inside “Beijing”. Cilic totally muffs a shot: 30-30. Rafa shanks a return: 40-30. Longish rally ends with Rafa sends a shot wide…but Rafa challenges the shot and wins. Replay the point. Rafa sends a shot sailing and it’s game to Cilic. 2-0

TennisLuvah: @RagingBitch I’m really not that surprised. Marin has the type of game that can bother Rafa. And it is. I say laugh! XD
@TennisLuvah He’s playing that game that’s in the players handbook under “How to beat Nadal on hard courts.”
TennisLuvah: Absolutely. I hate that chapter of the book! LOL

Rafa again gets down on his serve: 0-30. Another short angled winner to Rafa’s forehand from Cilic. Cilic nets two balls and Rafa saves three break points. And Rafa’s in double digits on points won in his own service games. (Yeah, that’s depressing.) Cilic nets a return – game point to Rafa. Smart serves from Rafa and he holds.

Cilic sends a shot wide and Rafa’s won 6 points in a row. Rafa nets a ball and ends the streak: 15-15. Sshhh…Rafa’s up on Cilic’s serve. That didn’t last long – Cilic pounces on a short ball and it’s 30-30. Short ball from Cilic and Rafa pounces for a winner: break point for Rafa. Second serve. Excellent angled forehand from Cilic saves the bp. Another forehand winner from Cilic gives him a game point. Rafa floats a return and Cilic slams it for a winner from the net. He goes up 3-1.

Rafa again takes the pace off a shot and draws an error from Cilic: 15-0. Lather, rinse repeat: 30-0. Rafa sends a shot long: 30-15. A fierce forehand from Rafa catches Cilic short and Rafa has a game point. Cilic pounces on a second serve: 40-30. They trade angles and Cilic heats a deep and fast winner: deuce. Nice serve and Cilic sends the return wide: ad to Rafa. Another nice serve and Rafa holds. He’s down a break: 2-3.

Rafa only winning 54% of first serve points; 38% of second serves; 17% of first returns and 33% of second returns.

Beautiful angled backhands from Rafa. 30-40 on Cilic’s serve. Second serve. Cilic pushes Rafa all over the court and he holds.

Nice forehand winner from Rafa: 15-0. Cilic muffs a second serve return: 30-0. Rafa sends a shot long: 30-15. Sends another wide: 30-30. Cilic nets a ball and it’s game point for Rafa. Rafa returns the favor: deuce. Cilic cuts off a ball at the net for a clean winner and has a break point. Cilic returns the ball right at Rafa’s feet. Rafa floats the return shot and smacks a winner. He will serve for the match.

Rafa moves Cilic well and finishes the point off with a short angled forehand winner. Cilic sends a shot just wide: 0-30. Rafa sends a shot just wide and it’s 15-30. Rafa nets a ball and it’s 30-30. Ace. Match point, Cilic. Cilic sends a shot wide: deuce. Ace. Another match point. Second serve. Cilic nets a ball: deuce. Rafa moves Cilic from side to side and ends with a smash winner: break point. Second serve. Cilic sails a ball and Rafa breaks: 3-5.

Rafa rips a passing shot: 15-0. Cilic returns skids off the baseline and Rafa nets the shot: 15-15. Second serve. Excellent deep return off the second serve and it’s 15-30. Second serve. Again, a long rally ends with Cilic at the net, cutting off the ball and hitting a sharp angled volley for the winner: match point for Cilc. Cilic muffs a return: 30-40. Cilic was in charge of the point, but sends a shot ever so slightly wide: deuce. Rafa sends a ball wide and it’s match point for Cilic again. Second serve. Cilic wins: 6-1 6-3.

75 Responses

  1. marla says:

    Rafa did not get the luck of the draw for Shanghai, so he better find confidence fast. Karlovic, Monfils, Verdasco, Delpo, Soderling, Tsonga – just to name the worst. Only “good new” – Cilic is in Djoky’s section.

  2. miri says:

    I’ve had a bit of a lie down (between being sick and tennis on China time, my schedule is so goofed up) and have a few more annoying things to say…

    Rafa was trying to play aggressively – for him. He was trying to stay in front of the “Beijing” on the court (seen him back behind it in other matches) and trying to move up. Shots would push him back and then he’d run back up. Problem was, when he was on the baseline, Cilic would hit hard and fast right at Rafa’s feet – giving him no chance to take a good stroke on the ball. When Rafa would be back just a tiny bit, Cilic would hit a hard, short angled shot to Rafa’s forehand (it would land inside or at the back of the service box) that Rafa had no chance to get to. It was like Rafa was screwed no matter what he did. And I bet that’s how he must have been feeling.

    I agree that he started reading Cilic’s shots a bit better toward the end of the second set, but he still found himself too often nowhere near where the ball was and not enough time to track it down.

    The freaky tall, hard, early hitters are becoming a force on the tour and Rafa’s going to have to figure out a winning game plan against them.

    I also agree that he looked flat emotionally and mentally out there…not sure if that happened before Cilic started playing him off the court or after.

    • vamsi says:

      nice to see u back miri
      hope u r doing well
      i think right now a lot of players have figured out how to beat rafael nadal thing thanks to the commentators who r always looking for someone to get rafa out and always offering techniques on the world television.

      • miri says:

        Good players don’t need commentators to tell them how to beat other players…they figure it out on their own. I’m sure Cilic did the same.

      • marla says:

        True. But they do the same to everyone. I think it’s the player’s and coach’s job to do the figuring on opponents. As much as I love to see Rafa with Roig, cause he is always happier and relaxed, I am starting to change my feelings a little bit. When Toni is there – he seems more focused and intense. This is what he needs to beat freaky tall guys. I have been saying for years that tennis needs a height class system because I hate when these 6’6 dudes can just stand there and hit aces all day, but honestly, they have some disadvantages, too, and it is up to their oppponent to exploit those. Rafa will figure it out.

        • miri says:

          What scares me (for my love of tennis in general) is that players like Cilic and del Potro move better than the freaky talls ever used to (see Isner and Karlovic). Movement was always their biggest weakness.

          • Zoez says:

            Big serve tennis has never been that enjoyable for me to watch. I love to watch Rafa construct a point, using the skills he learned on clay. Yes, he plays with power, but he has a lot more finesse and variety to his game than he seems to get credit for. Watching these tall players (with decent movement) just blast their opponent off the court does not inspire me watch more tennis. It’s hard for me to see this as a bright future for the game.

            As to Rafa, it also seems as if the ATP has made changes that are a disadvantage to his game: playing three sets rather than five, demoting the significance of clay by leaving only two as mandatory while adding hard courts, and shifting the schedule to make the heart of the clay season almost impossible to get through physically. Quite a few hurdles to overcome, no matter how well Rafa is playing. Add to this the dawn of the “big man” era, Rafa’s lack of “confidence” (in spite of his past success), and the liability of his serve, and the immediate future does not seem as bright as one would hope. Yet, I have confidence that Rafa will find the will and the way to overcome so we can enjoy more years of his breathtaking tennis.

            • CC says:

              Very well put, Zoez.

            • miri says:

              I hate big-serve tennis as well. I fell out of love with tennis during the Samprass/Ivanesivic (sp?) era and it took Rafa to bring me back.

              Another big problem with the talls and Rafa is that one of Rafa’s biggest weapons has traditionally been the high bounce his top-spin produces. For average players, it puts the ball at an awkward height to hit. For the freaky talls? They are all happy they aren’t having to bend down to get to the ball.

              • Atch2 says:

                More slice shots for tall dudes?

                • Denizen says:

                  Slices are a good thought, but when Rafa’s way behind the baseline his slices land around the service line, and the freaky tall dude tees off on it.

                  Rafa needs to get his serve back (I believe the doctor told him not to do it 100% this week), return 2nd serves better, and remember that he too can hit a nice flat shot.

                  In this match, I thought he was zombie-like from the get-go until the middle of the second set. He just didn’t have his mind on the match IMO.

  3. Tom says:

    I am your fan, Rafa, but I am so pissed off at you. It is frustrating to watch you play on hard courts, because your strategy just sucks. First of all you need to improve your serve. But the most frustrating aspect of your hard court game is that you still keep running around your backhand, try to hit a forehand, and give up so much court. This is the main reason you struggle on hard courts. You are not willing to counter-punch, and the backhand is the perfect counter-punching weapon. You always want to hit your aggressive forehand, but hard courts is about hitting neutral shots and using the natural speed of the court. And not willing to counter-punch was the main reason you lost worse than you should have. Cilic was on fire, but there was no excuse to play the stupid way you do.

  4. Rafafan says:

    tom – that’s a bit OTT. He knows to improve the serve but as has been seen in practice coz of the abdom muscle has to be careful and looking at changing it – tho didn’t c any evidence in the match except slower!

    Needs 2 use whatever aggressive powers he has 2 give him confidence. His bh has not been working well of late and that’s probably why.

    one thing i hate 2 c is his 2 metres behind the baseline – he will never win and b aggressive from there.

    also his returns haven’t been flashing past but only in to service box high and looped which is an easy getaway for a tall bloke. he needs to make all his returns flat and go in2 the ball and hit through it so the ball picks up speed when hitting the ground.

    His main mental attitude is to change his strategy quickly when things aren’t working for 3 set matches and go 4 broke and drop the defensive game – only for those hard hittin flat booming serve tall players! No good for him to say i must play better, the strategy must be different. tom he has figures out for blake tsonga – will do for del port, cilic and the SOD

  5. Tom says:

    People do not understand that Rafa’s ability to play behind the baseline is not a weakness, but actually is a strength. He also does not choose to play this way. It is because of his weak serve that he is forced to play as far back as he does. The weak serve gives his opponents easy returns that are hit deep to Rafa, forcing him to play behind the baseline. His ability to play that far back is actually very good, and he should not give up those defensive skills which are valuable across surfaces. It is that he also needs to play aggressive points with his serve, especially the first serve, so he can have a few cheap easy points. If every point is a struggle then it can wear on him. But if he can have a few cheap points with his serve, then he can save his defensive skills for later in the match. If he develops a better serve, then the whole ATP will be in trouble. And it can get better.

    But unfortunately, Rafa wants to play aggressive with his forehand to compensate for not being as aggressive with his serve. That is all right, too, but sometimes he needs to accept that he needs to play more neutral with his two-handed backhand, and slice, and wait for the forehand later in the point. He must not give up width to the court by running around the backhand like he does. I have seen him run around the backhand on the deuce side of the court to the point that he is inside the doubles alley trying to hit a forehand. Then his opponent responds by hitting to the open court, especially when Rafa does nothing to the shot, and ultimately gains no strategic advantage. This problem is more fixable now because Rafa has the ability to play off his backhand. It is just some strategic adjustments. Another problem off the backhand that is more technical on the hard courts he can make is hit more close stance on the two-hander. He open stances so much to the point that he gets nothing on the ball when he is on the run. It is just a few extra tiny steps he needs to take on the run–polish the footwork. In fact he is better off hitting a one-hander on the run because he will be close stance. And he needs to be dominantly closed stanced on the two handed backhand in neutral rallies, and sometimes he is not. Open stance is perfect for clay, but for hard court it is not.

    Hitting flat and low is also important for Rafa, and when he is confident, he does. At Indian Wells, he was following through on the forehand beautifully, across his body instead of over his head. He needs to get this shot back.

  6. Rafafan says:

    tom – u lost me in part of that! we all no his service was rubbish and no why. He will improve this and the 2nd when confident enuff with the abds. He is not gonna mention anymre on injuries in case people get on the bandwagon but we no whats going on. I was talking about standing back behind the baseline when he is retrieving – he shd not do this as the balls coming back from him is loopy in middle of court as we saw at fo with the sod, delpot and now cilic. He must mix and come to the net fairly often when putting deep balls back – his vollying is surprisingly good and better than people expect. That way when he sees his opp hard hitters, flat hitters with booming serves have a purple hot streak that looks like it wont fade, he has to change drastically and quick. that why dont think he was in it mentally – ie strategically to think it out. He will do hs homework and study the draw in shanghai and surprise us

  7. neil in toronto says:

    I didn’t see the match, but since his blowout by Delpo at the U.S. Open, i’ve often thought that against these really tall guys that move well, Rafa would do better to body serve them and hit his groundies either down the centre and or at their body. When a player is over 6″3 lets say, i’ve noticed they have a tougher time getting out of their own way, than they do running side to side.

  8. neil in toronto says:

    Also, 1 quarter and the rest semi’s since is comeback…on hardcourts is NOTHING to be ashamed of :D

  9. Atch2 says:

    Anyone notice if his serve has changed much since USO (after seeing the discussion at the indoor practice sessions with Uncle Toni in Mallorca before turning up at the China Open)?

    • GroundStroke says:

      i like to watch rafa played and he is one of my favourite player.
      but i am afraid he might reached his peak now, losing in a big margin to players like djoko, del potro, and now cilic.

      he doesn’t look as fast as before and his shots wasn’t great either, poor serves, no killing shots, average ground strokes but fortunately his percentage of getting the balls in the court is still high, and his super fitness is still there, so i think it will be ok agains lower ranks player but not the top 10 players.

      i think, if he managed to get pass cilic in the china open, he will still get steam roll by djoko in the final..

      i hope he will be able to counce back from his defeats, and probably to be able to improve or change his game.

      i am looking forward to see him play next year, but not this year.

  10. alik says:

    wow,such a fair weather fan.

  11. Atch2 says:

    Nole won the China Open and was asked to do an imitation again during the prize ceremony. And he chose Rafa:

  12. GroundStroke says:

    i am agreed on tom’s comment there..

    and how long and how fast you can run, sooner or later you will worm out, and i believe this is also the main reason why he have many injuries on his knees.

    i wonder how difficult for them who are at the top pro level to improve their serve? i saw many lower ranks pro have a better serve then him, and i regarded him as the poorest server in the top 10.
    i watch tennis matches alot but i have not really play much, so i might not know what is the complication on the service improvement, can someone please enlighten?

    • Atch2 says:

      An interesting article written by Steve Tignor posted on 20 Mar 09 talking about Rafa’s serve. I don’t think his serve is as weak as everyone makes it out to be. And we know he’s always trying to improve it.

      “Nadal began his career with what he and his uncle Toni called the weakest serve of any pro. He has made it more powerful over the years, but more important, like a blind man developing sharper hearing, Nadal has worked around his limitations to develop a phenomenal serving accuracy.

      Most players have three targets: wide, up the T, and, every once in a while, at the body. Nadal has at least five. He has the wide one to Federer’s backhand, but he also has the really wide one, the one that lands on the line or within an inch of it (it’s not a fluke when he puts it that close). Nadal can go up the T, but he’s just as likely to hit hard right at an opponent’s forehand hip (again, it’s not a fluke that he can put it right there, and not two inches to the left, which would make the ball a sitter).

      Nadal sets up serving patterns so he can break them and surprise his opponent at a crucial time. Against Federer, this means going to the backhand 50 straight times, then at the forehand at deuce late in a set. (At Wimbledon last year, he completely scrambled his usual pattern against Federer, scrapping the everything-to-the-backhand system that had worked so well a month earlier at the French Open.) Against Djokovic, Nadal will go mildly up the T a few times or out wide, then suddenly drill a serve 10 m.p.h. faster tight to his forehand side. If Nadal is simply serving slices to the same spot during a particular match, it’s not because that’s all he has in his arsenal. It’s because he thinks that’s the best way to serve on that day.”

  13. anna says:

    well i wrote something here abaut two days ago that i am talking some in mallorca she said she isnt person of rafael nadal but heard that 2010 will be rafa last year especially if it isnt a good year….i really wanted that information TO BE FALSE SO MUCH…..but now rafa gave an intewrwiew CNN VAUSEY for ASIA SPECIAL……his words I DONT EXPECT TO PLAY MANY MORE YEARS….i am very sad i knew that some things that said abut it him is just gossip BUT SOME OF THEM IS TRUE UNFORTUNETLY….i am very very sad….

  14. Rafafan says:

    Where did you get this info? Can you provide the link to it. Sometimes what he says is misinterpreted. Although his spanglish is much much better. I am pretty sure he wouldn’t come out and say this or its in the context say with the very long season that has been floating around recently

  15. GroundStroke says:

    now i know more about his serve, thanks Atch2 for the info.

    if he have persistence injuries particularly to his knees, i am not surprise he will be force to step out from the game. his very much physical game play will definately taking a toll to his body when age catching up.

    he will be facing blanke in his first match of the shanghai master, let see whether there are any positive sign from him, and if he goes on to win the title, he will earn a 1000 tour point, and he will surpass federer as no.1 again? no?