Ah, victory

Photo by REUTERS/Karl Jeffs

Rafa met world #8 Robin Soderling in the Abu Dhabi final today. Yeah, it was just an exhibition, but who the heck cares – Rafa won and has another trophy to bite. Playing well, he won it two tight sets. There were no breaks of serve in the first set as it went to a tie-breaker that Rafa dominated. Things went back and forth a bit in the second set, but Rafa broke in the final game to take it: 7-6(3), 7-5.

As it happened blatherings:

Rafa really should probably do the fly check before he gets on court.

Soderling starts off with a service winner (or ace – my stream sucks and I can’t tell if Rafa got his racket on it or not). Rafa tries to tee off on a forehand from midcourt, but it clips the net. Soderling holds at love.

Actually, my stream is freezing so much, it’s going to be near impossible to do this today. I see Rafa preparing for serve and then only have sound until the point is over. *sigh*

Rafa goes up 40-0 on his first serve game, but a few bad shots and it’s 40-30. Rafa goes on to hold.

*much scurrying for feeds*

I now have three feeds going. Two via Sky Sports and one from Italy, but all three at different points in the match. I’m dizzy. Closes one of the Sky Sports one.

Oh, it’s now 3-2 on serve.

Deep backhand from Rafa and he follows it up by running into the net…but Soderling can’t get to the backhand. Just love seeing Rafa running forward. Rafa sends a shot just wide: 15-30. Soderling returns the favor: 30-30. Again with a wide shot from Soderling: 40-30. Looks like it’s a bit windy out there. Rafa holds to even things at 3-3.

Soderling sends a shot long to go down on his serve, but follows that up with an excellent serve: 15-15. Soderling holds to go up 4-3.

Soderling nets a ball: 0-15. Ace. Soderling sends a shot wide: 40-0. Ace: game Rafa. They are on serve 4-4. Rafa switches rackets.

Rafa nets a ball. Soderling returns the favor: 15-15. Italian stream just died. Ah, a refresh brought it back and the score is 30-30. Blistering angled forehand winner from Soderling gives him a game point. Soderling holds for 5-4. Rafa to serve to stay in set.

Sexy Ace! The net cord tosses a ball back onto Soderling’s side: 30-0. Oye. That serve was in the middle of the doubles alley. Soderling nets a ball: 40-0. Soderling wins the next point, but Rafa goes on to hold for 5-5.

Deep well-placed backhand from Soderling causes Rafa to hit a sitter that Soderling taps for a winner at the net. A long rally with both players moving each other ends when Soderling nets a deep ball: 15-15. Same thing happens again: 15-30. Strong serve from Soderling draws a weak sitter reply that Soderling hits deep into the court…and Rafa somehow manages to pass him – double break point. Soderling saves both with good serving. Rafa sails another return long and it’s game point for Soderling. Rafa sends another return long and Soderling holds for 6-5.

Rafa sends a forehand down the line wide. Rafa double faults…down 0-30. Error from Soderling takes us to 15-30. A very long rally ends in an error from Rafa: 15-40. Excellent service winner down the middle: 30-40. Second serve. Soderling nets a ball: deuce. Second serve. Soderling sends a shot just wide: game point for Rafa. Rafa holds. Tie break time.

First point to Soderling. Rafa hits what he thinks is an ace, but is called out due to an overrule from the chair…and is out per hawkeye. At the end of a long rally, a deep shot from Rafa draws an error from Soderling: 1-1. Soderling sends a shot long: 2-1.

Nice angles from Soderling: 2-2. Soderling can’t handle a passing shot from Rafa and it’s the first mini-break of the tiebreaker. Rafa leads 4-2 and still has a service point to go. Changing ends.

Service winner from Rafa: 5-2. Rafa’s shots start landing a little short, but he still manages to win the point: 6-2. A service winner and Rafa takes the first set in 59 minutes: 7-6(3).

Rafa serving to start set 2. Lovely forehand winner from Rafa. Stress free hold and it’s 1-0.

Soderling pushes Rafa back, but he doesn’t stay there –he moves forward and rips a winner. Soderling rips his own winner: 15-15. Soderling runs Rafa around and draws an error to go up 30-15. Service winner. Distracted a few points…an error from Soderling takes us to deuce. On game point, Soderling’s ball is called out, but a review shows it’s in and he holds.

Oh, what a fun point. Both players at the net hitting angles. Rafa goes way wide and flicks a forehand down the line for a winner: 30-0. I think I saw a hint of a smile on Rafa’s face. Soderling sends a shot just long: 40-0. Error from Rafa: 40-15. Rafa holds for 2-1.

Ace from Soderling. Two errors from Soderling and he’s down 15-30 on his serve. An error from Soderling gives Rafa break point. Soderling saves it with an excellent mid-court forehand winner. He then pushes Rafa around and smacks another forehand winner for game point. An ace closes out the game: 2-2.

Rafa sends a shot way wide: 0-15. A long rally ends with Rafa hits a short slice to bring Soderling into the net. Soderling obliges and misses the volley: 15-15. Service winner. Error from Soderling: 40-15. Rafa hits a sitter ball and this time Soderling doesn’t miss the volley: 40-30. Soderling sends a return long and Rafa holds for 3-2.

Apparently, Rafa is like a wasp hovering around your jam sandwich. You keep wanting to finish it, but the darn wasp keeps getting in your way. Um. Okay.

Double break point for Rafa. Soderling saves one, but sends a shot wide and Rafa breaks for 4-2.

Excellent passing shot from Soderling: 0-15. Make that two: 0-30. Second serve. Triple break point. Rafa moves Soderling back and forth and then comes into the net to finish him off: 15-40. Rafa sends a shot wide and is broken. They are back on serve.

Soderling sends a shot wide and starts talking to himself. Service winner…but Rafa challenges. The ball is in by millimeters and Rafa smiles like, wtf? Excellent point from Rafa takes them to deuce – he moved Soderling well and took the shot he wanted for a winner. Ace from Soderling gives him a game point. Soderling sends a shot long and it’s deuce. Rafa returns the favor: adv Soderling. Soderling nets a ball: deuce. Rafa can’t react in time to a net cord: adv Soderling. Soderling holds: 4-4.

Soderling flubs a second serve return: 15-0. He pulls Rafa wide, but then nets a ball: 30-0. Rafa sends a shot just wide: 30-15. A deep shot from Rafa draws an error from Soderling: 40-15. Stress-free hold for Rafa. He leads 5-4. Soderling to serve to stay in the match.

Playing aggressively, Rafa sends a ball just long: 0-15. Lovely backhand winner from him draws them even at 15-15. Soderling nets a ball and goes down 15-30. Second serve. Rafa sends a ball way long and it’s 30-30. Second serve. Soderling nets a ball: match point Rafa. Second serve. Soderling pushes Rafa back and wide and then comes into the net to volley into the empty court: deuce. Serve out wide and then Soderling wrong-foots Rafa: adv Soderling. Second serve. Deuce. Double fault to match point for Rafa. Excellent wide serve, deep forehand and a volley into the open court: deuce. Soderling sends a shot long and Rafa has his 3rd match point. Good serve draws a defensive return: deuce. Lather, rinse, repeat: adv Soderling. Second serve. Double fault: deuce. Soderling runs Rafa around and smashes a winner from the net: adv Soderling. Rafa sends a shot long? No? Overrule? Everyone is standing around pointing. Hawkeye shows it’s long. Soderling holds.

Nice hold from Rafa: 6-5. Once again, the pressure is on Soderling to stay in the match.

Wide shot from Soderling. Second serve. Another wide shot – forced error: 0-30. Service winner: 15-30. Second serve. Lazy looking forehand from Soderling gives Rafa double match point. Second serve. Soderling nets a volley and Rafa has won!

89 Responses

  1. Kalliopeia says:

    Thank God. I don’t know how well I’d have dealt with Soderling beating him again. You know how I feel about that guy. :)

    I didn’t wake up in time to watch. :( Good to know he was playing well.

    • Rafafan says:

      Yes this is an even better feeling than normal – to win against the Sod in a final! – exp or not It makes all what happened at the French Open and the wTF final a long distance memory. Still hurting but not so much now thank God for that! Wouldn’t have been able to bear it if the Sod won 3 straight matches and we would never hear the end of it in the anti Rafa media who just seem to so enjoy stickiing daggers in him especially the English media for some reason. Mayb they have nothing else to write and Rafa is always a topic of conversation – at least there are some positive things about him again. Boy don’t they change their tune. Necitas – yes I can sleep very well indeed, once the highlights 8ish in the evening and 2am Englishb time finishes. Won’t miss it for any beauty sleep. To watch after you know he has won and watch again, its just such a joy you can see all the bits you miss when you are so nervous the first time round. What a way to start – Happy 2010!

  2. CC says:

    OK, so next time you’re playing Robin, Rafa, I’ll go and see a boring film at the cinema and then you’ll win again…? Promise…? ;)

    I taped the match and can’t wait to see it tonight! Yay!

  3. Emma says:

    Vamos Rafa!
    So proud of Rafa and happy for the way he played – again more risks, strong groundstrokes, great angles, nice and deep shots, good placements, good serve! What more can we ask for? He will get better and better from this point and hopefully this consistency will build up to the sublime form we know he’s more than capable of, in time for the aussie open!.
    I was so nervous at 4-2 when he lost his service game and gave the sod the chance to take the score to 4-4. somewhere at the back of my mind, i was thinking ” oh not again, is this again not the tournament that’s meant to be Rafa’s?” But I guess, like our man, I just continued to believe in Rafa (and you could tell the self-belief he had in him today – fantastic) and I was thinking ” heck, we will just take him to 3 sets and see him hobble at the third set”.
    Rafa thoroughly deserved to win – this wasn’t like his previous victories over the last couple of months when he managed to scrape out a win even though he was playing badly. This was no fluke – he played well and so did SOD but rafa had more consistency in his game and that made the difference.
    Taking SOD down in 2 straight sets – fantastic!

  4. emir says:

    i said before i liked what i saw yesterday,not because he won because we all know that he can win ugly sometimes.today it was even better.is i just me when he plays like this even when he is down you always feel positive as a fan,you always belive he is going to win somehow…i mean people can say what ever they want yes this exo but neither feru nor soderling played like a exo the matches were played very seriously and for them the price is big they arent million dollar babies like rafa or roger,they certainly wanted it. it is a title in the end ok maybe not an official one…WELL ONE THING FOR SURE EVEN COMMENTATORS SOME OF THEM HAS NADAL BIAS THINKS THAT THIS ISNT THE SAME NADAL THAT WE SAW IN WTF…..there is certainly improvement there,you have to be a blind not to see it…will it be enough to win AO,well you never know…to win this event and doha back to back didnt help murray that match last year in AO BUT OUR GUY RAFA isnt murray…..

  5. Emma says:

    And does anyone know if this surface is any disimilar to the US open surface? I thought that they would be quite similar. So if Rafa plays on the US open surface (which is also the WTF surface) now, by right he should be able to play the way he did today, meaning to say he would be alot more competitive than he was at the WTF right?

  6. emir says:

    wtf is indoors i have to say more faster than this this is more similiar to the AO SURFACE THAN THE US OPEN ONE…but one thing for sure he is hitting the ball nice and deep,finding some great winners,serving well…even rafa haters noticed that in the other web sides…

  7. Nic says:

    Yes yes yes yes yes!! Awesome way to kickstart 2010 dear Rafa!!! Well deserved. I’m so happy he beat Soderling again. What a confidence booster. Although I didn’t get to see yesterday’s match against Ferrer, from the little clips I saw here and from Miri’s review yesterday, I just had a sense that Rafa was playing confidently and with much calm. Nothing like a new year to make things fresh. And of course all the hard work after the Davis Cup has brought him here. Eventhough it’s an exho, i think it’s no less important than a tourney. Being the start of the season, surely everyone in it wanted to come away with the trophy, but only our Rafa got it. How lovely to see him looking so fine, and so happy, biting that trophy. He must be so hungry to get a hold on more trophies again now that he’s had a taste of the Davis Cup silverware and now this one. Vamos my dearest Rafa!!! And thank you for making my day. You are just awesome. Onward ho to Doha!! xxxx

  8. Isabelle says:

    YEEESSSSS!!!! This is fantastic, what a confidence boost. I am so f…ing happy he won and against that Sod! I am so happy for Rafa!!

  9. reemo says:

    Well, Great start for the year .. What is most impressive is as always his attitude after winning, no knocking on his chest in a ‘am the man’ kinda gesture like Sod did in london …. just go to the net to greet him

  10. shani h says:

    Great start to his year….congrats Rafa!! Just what he needed….playing with so much confidence and ‘colm’. The added bonus was kicking Soderling’s ass!!! Here’s hoping for many more of these in 2010.

  11. Carol says:

    This sure ain’t politically correct, and it’s certainly done my looming cold good… but fuckimg bloody brilliant Rafa (and I hope David was screaming Vamos & Podemos for you….

    • yoni says:

      I was nervous upon waking this morning…went straight to the computer and headed to my bookmarks bar. Clicked on Nadal News and saw the post. I was so relieved and happy that I got teary. So so happy for Rafa, what a confidence boost for him. He needed a win against Soderling, just a monkey that needed to be torn from our dear Rafa’s back. Fantastic!

  12. annabelle says:

    Wheeeeeeeeeeee!!! What a great holiday season! The Davis Cup win for a wonderful Christmas present and now winning Abu Dhabi for a spectacular New Year’s present.

    I felt the second that I got up this morning that Rafa would win today. It’s hard to explain but I just feel a confidence coming from him that I haven’t felt as much the past few months. Even though I wasn’t able to see the match, I could still feel that confidence. It’s so great that he played well and that he WON!!!

    Enjoy your win, dear Rafa!!!

  13. Alison says:

    Ooh yey I love 2010 already! I’ve been smiling all day. A fantastic win for Rafa. Our yummy guy will be back at numero uno for sure very soon. VAMOS!

  14. Delta says:

    Glorious, just pure glorious!!!

    • arwen says:

      wonderful,just wonderful…
      Kolya and Delpo,next victims ı hope.
      ı want to see a bagel for Delpo.

  15. rafandready says:

    Fantastic from Rafa today, such a great start to the new season, playing with confidence. I see he has said he practised for two and a half weeks after the end of the last season – well it seems to have paid off. Vamos Rafa!

  16. Rafangel says:

    Here’s a terrible-quality vid of the trophy ceremony – but at least you get to squint (through a blue haze) at some trophy-lifting and inspection:


    It’s dubbed in a language I can’t understand, so if you’re in the same boat and just want to admire the pics, Rafa’s bit starts at 0:44.

  17. jimmy says:

    Well.. A good match yesterday. Fun to watch. And I wouldn’t have changed that statement even if Rafa had lost. I’m glad he played the big pts well and saved those set points in the 1st set (which changed the match). The only thing which is missing from Rafa’s arsenal right now is the consistent use of the down the line forehand and a trifle more accuracy on his return of serve. Of course these things will only come from more matches. You obviously can’t get an opportunity to return a 220 kmph serve in practice sessions!

    Now if Rafa is reviewing the match here’s what he’s thinking:

    “”I’m playing much better than I did in the WTF. I just need to flatten out my forehand a little bit more and try to go for more winners from that side. When I was playing my best tennis in 2008 I was hitting the inside out forehand MUCH more. And that’s a shot I’ve been hitting very less after my injury because I was not confident enough. But when I’m in form, it’s by far my best shot because I can set it up so well. I hit some of these shots today against Soderling, and I can hopefully get more confident and aggressive with my forehand as I go deeper into this season.”

    To me it’s also clear that on hardcourts the backhand cross court is the shot that wins matches for Rafa. He can hit it so hard and flat (even from way behind the baseline) that it really takes his opponents off guard. He is able to change the whole dynamics of the rally and be on the offensive with ONE well struck backhand in a neutral rally. That’s what won him the AO 09 against Federer. Similarly Rafa’s played 3 great matches since his return (Berdych Cinci, Monfils UsO and Tsonga Paris) and in all of these matches the backhand was clicking big time. So it’s no surprise against Soderling too, the backhand was the key.

    The exho victory won’t count as on official one. However I had always wanted him to face Soderling because the Swede contains the greatest trace of Rafa’s pain – the loss in Paris.
    It’s been hanging over Rafa.The only way to kill a monster is to face it. Rafa’s the greatest warrior in the game, and I bet he thinks that way too. Well..today Rafa did just that. Now if they meet in the AO quarter final, at least Nadal can go in mainly thinking about the time he played him in Abu Dhabi, instead of London or The French Open.

    Finally I don’t want to make the mistake of reading too much into a exho tournament. But it was a different Nadal, point blank. More lust-filled, frisky, looking to strike fiercely. He played well and stood in closer aggressively pursuing everything. While his game is not 100% (yet), it’s good to see a healthly Rafa for a change. Onwards and Upwards!!

    • aRafaelite says:

      Very nicely put Jimmy

    • mary says:

      I agree as well. But I have to ask you about the following:-
      “And that’s a shot I’ve been hitting very less after my injury because I was not confident enough.” Jimmy how does this particular shot effect his knees as compared to his other shots? I don’t play tennis much so you obviously have a better insight to this. I’ve often wondered why he used this shot less than he had in the past.

      • jimmy says:

        Hiya Mary. I don’t think the inside out forehand is particularly damaging to the knees any more than the other shots which Rafa hits. Of course the massive backswing and the buggy whip motion is pretty hard on the arm and the shoulders, but he’s had almost no (or very few) injuries in his upper body. So it’s fine I guess. Anyway,I think it’s the backhand which could cause stress on his knees and ankle. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VE_RqaEsBiM ). The way he hits is very awkward(unlike the smooth follow-though of Djokovic, Nalbandian and Murray etc)
        Finally the reason Rafa is hitting the inside out forehand less is because of timing and confidence issue. The hooked lefty crosscourt is Rafa’s natural bread and butter shot, and he can win matches on that alone when he’s hitting the ball with depth/angles. But to change direction and go inside-out (or down the line) requires impeccable timing and throws his opponent off completely especially when he hits it short with a sharp angle. Watch his Australian Open 2009 3rd round with Haas or Wimb QF 2008 with Murray to see how devastating the forehand is when Rafa’s on fire.

        • mary says:

          muchas gracias amigo!! I will try & look for these matches. I know the exact person to ask. I’ve seen Rafa do this & yep it sends his opponents into a spin. He turns defence into attack!!!! Thats whats so unique & special about his game. I just wish he’d time his coming into the net better. ;-)

        • mary says:

          Wow Jimmy see what you mean. He definitely puts alot of pressure on his joints & not just the ankles & knees. Love how the guy says he wouldn’t wanna be Rafa’s ankles. ;-)

  18. faeaki7 says:

    Yes well said Jimmy, infact so well that I have nothing more to add other than Yeh, Rafa done it! he beat the Sod! and in straight sets too! so it is an exho but I somehow felt that this match was soo soo important for our dear Rafa from a physchological point of view, he had to face his fears and he did so fearlessly. Congrats to Rafa!!! Sure he isn’t 100% yet but its such a better performance than we have seen in a while on h/c. All is well for now in Rafaland!

  19. Kathy says:

    What a way to start the new year! I am so happy for Rafa and for all of us who have been waiting for this. And didn’t he have some nice see through white shorts on! No wonder he has to tug on his shorts–no way his beautiful butt fits in those little underwear he has on!! I couldn’t take my eyes off it the whole match…and..it looks a tiny bit bigger than before the holidays….oh. my.
    I LOVE Miri’s comment that Rafa is like a wasp flying around the sandwich you are trying to finish off. That is a wasp you would love to have land on you. *chokes at the thought* Vamos Rafalito!

  20. Rafafan says:

    KKathy – having watched the match live I was then ready to look at the highlights and not be a nervous wreck and look at the other bits of Rafa. Yeah the butt certainly was one of the highlights – it is so beautifully round and big and thank God he is wearing white shorts again, and not those bloody chequered shorts where we were so robbed in not being able to see and peak into his tight underwear which we can now thankfully see again. He looked so much better physically than against Federrer – was worried with the burping and holding the knees but none of that against the Sod. Has anyone noticed how much he sweats on court. I mean it wasn’t even hot there. I heard he has a a shower b4 he comes on court but he certainly has a shower when he is on court – an adverse affect. I can c now why he uses the towel so often and also why he fidgets round his face when he serves. He has sweat on his face dripping all over the place!

    Now Jimmy – now the serious business of his play. I agree with all you say but cant understand if the forehand down the line is his favourtie shot (normally that means a person’s easiest that they will use alot) why doesn’t he just play it time and time again. His whole game is a confidence issue and the more you do it, the better and more confident you get. He needs to work on this, not in practice but during play! I would like to have seen him a bit more aggresive. Noticed he tried coming to the net, but when he lost a few point he didn’t do it again. Would have liked him to perserve with that. Impressed with the serve – although not many aces, looked like more power and harder as well as his backhand (at last!). Bit disappointed he didn’t move up the baseline – still far to far behind, although his returns were better. He also must take the ball early on the rise more and more to outguess the opponent as they are starting to read his game. Noticed a couple of times he did and won the point each time. Glad he is in the doubles in Doha to improve his net play, volley etc. Remember RAfa, hard, flat near to the baseline early on the rise forehands and backhands, into the net, inside the baseline, out wide serves, volley and yes you WILL win everything – nothing is impossible no? xxxxx

  21. Emma R says:

    I can’t really add too much to what people have already said – this is the best Xmas and New Year present all rolled into one. Only just been able to watch it on sky plus as been flattened with flu, but letting out weak howls of bliss at the Wonder of Rafa.

    Disappointed at the lack of ceremony on Sky as well, but the win is what matters. You deserve it so much my darling. Nadarling. xxxx

  22. Atch2 says:

    Miri what did u mean by ‘Rafa really should probably do the fly check before he gets on court’?
    Did he come onto court ‘open’?

    • CC says:

      Atch2, he was undoing the flap on the shorts and then doing it up again as he came on court for the warm up, if I remember correcto. I’d forgotten about that! ;)

      • Atch2 says:

        Thanks CC.
        Rafadorkable. Hope Mama Nadal said something to him abt that.

      • miri says:

        He did it during the warm up – when he was actually out on the court. I’ve seen him do that quite a few times in the “tunnel” while waiting to come out, but since I saw him doing it during the coin toss in a doubles match in Montreal, I’ve started noticing it happen more and more while on the court or in public. He did it after posing for a photo for fans (and still facing the photographer) while on the sidelines during Davis Cup.

        • CC says:

          Me thinks he doesn’t care at all. And I only care because it’s Rafa and I like him doing it. It does feel a bit typical of him, though, no?

          BTW, those photos, of smiley, bouncy Rafa…? Anytime I have a bad day I know where to go now. :)

          • miri says:

            Oh, I know he doesn’t care…it both annoys me and endears me to him at the same time.

            • dutchgirl says:

              I just like the fact that he’s so totally selfconscious that he doesn’t give a s**t.

              • Atch2 says:

                Me too. And it’s sometimes like he’s teasing but, but he’s not and it’s in our imaginations. Remember when he was zipping up after his medical time out during the USO match with Almagro. Woh!

                • Emma R says:

                  Oh God the Almagro medical time out. I had to go for a cold shower and an intense self flagellation session (whatever the hell that is, I always wondered).

                  For me it was when he was unzipping prior to lying down. Dear goodness, what a moment.

        • sia says:

          Oh miri, you are so matter of fact and then you show us a photo like that!! You naughty, naughty
          girl! :)

          • miri says:

            Hey, I was just trying to supply a visual aid to accompany my story and help make my point. If it inspires naughty thoughts, that’s your problem (or joy), not mine. ;)

  23. Rafafan says:

    Well for what its worth – he is never self conscious on court