IW: Shaking the tree

Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Today’s round of 16 matchup between Rafa and Isner was their first, and it had many Rafa fans a little bit nervous. Isner’s been playing with confidence and is a member of the freaky-tall family who scoffs at high bouncing top-spin shots. Rafa played a pretty darn perfect first set: breaking in the 11th game and taking it 7-5. One horridly loose game cost him the second set. The third set felt tight until Rafa broke in the 4th game. Isner looked deflated and his game followed. Rafa’s through to the quarters: 7-5, 3-6, 6-3.


Nadal Isner
Statistics on Serve
Aces 2 22
Double Faults 3 1
1st Serve % 60% 66%
1st Serve Points Won 37/44 (84%) 51/69 (74%)
2nd Serve Points Won 21/29 (72%) 16/36 (44%)
Break Points Saved 0/1 (0%) 7/9 (78%)
Service Games Played 15 15
Statistics on Return
1st Return Points Won 18/69 (26%) 7/44 (16%)
Second Return Points Won 20/36 (26%) 8/29 (28%)
Break Points Won 2/9 (22%) 1/1 (100%)
Return Games Played 15 15
Statistics on Points
Total Service Points Won 58/73 (79%) 67/105 (64%)
Total Return Points Won 38/105 (36%) 15/73 (21%)
Total Points Won 96/178 (54%) 82/178 (46%)
Other Stats
Winners 24 46
Unforced errors 13 40
Net Approaches 1/1 (100%) 12/22 (55%)

As it happened blatherings:

They are playing “Tide is High” by Blondie during the warm up. “They tide is high but I’m holding on . I’m going to be your number 1.” I likes the sound of that.

Isner serving to start things off. (I’m working – albeit from home – so there might not be as many updates as usual.) Easy hold from Isner.

Steady hold from Rafa. Isner holds with the usual excellent serving: 1-2. Rafa standing closer to baseline to make his returns.

Love hold for Rafa: 2-2.

Rafa standing further back on the second serve and that seems to work for him, but he’s not getting a lot of second serves. Another nice hold from Isner: 2-3.

Rafa moving Isner well: 15-0. The net cord shows Isner some love: 15-15. Rafa holds.

Rafa hits behind Isner to tie things up 30-all on Isner’s next service game – we get a “Vamos!” Isner follows that up with a scary ace: 40-30. Isner nets a ball: deuce. Isner goes on to hold: 3-4.

Two errors from Isner and Rafa’s up 30-0. Nice point from Isner draws an error from Rafa: 30-15. Isner totally flat-footed on a body serve: 40-15. Rafa moves Isner side to side on the next point and it’s 4-4.

Rafa miss-hits a second serve return that’s almost over his head: 0-30. Pushed wide, he nets a ball: 0-40. Serve and volley from Isner and he holds at love. Rafa to serve to stay in the set.

Rafa holds at love: 5-5. The inevitable tie-break looking more inevitable.

Holy crap – that landed in? 30-30… Rafa puts a return right at Isner’s feet and he can’t handle it – break point. Rafa passes Isner and breaks! He’s up 6-5 and can serve the set out next game.

Isner sends 2 shots long, breaks a string and tosses his racket. Ace? Nope – challenge shows it’s wide. Isner’s reply goes wide and Rafa takes the first set: 7-5.

9 winners; 0 UFEs and 93% first serve points won. Let’s hope the second set is as clean.

Isner starting the second set serving. He nets a ball: 0-15. Again, Rafa moves Isner well: 0-30. Well constructed point from Isner: 15-30. Rafa gets the ball down at Isner’s feet: 15-40. Another good point from Isner: 30-40. And another – well constructed and good, safe shot selection: deuce. Ace for game point. Isner sends a shot barely wide: deuce. Game point Isner. Despite break points against, Isner holds to start set 2.

Rafa holds at love: 1-1.

Easy hold for Isner this time – he leads 2-1, on serve.

Again, Rafa moves Isner well and then steps it up with a forehand winner: 15-0. Double fault from Rafa. Erm…another double fault. *raises eyebrow at Rafa* Isner tees off on a forehand and he has double break point. Rafa nets a ball and is broken. Isner up 3-1.

Rafa really needs to stop getting bored during his second sets.

Nice side-spinning volley from Isner: 15-15. Ace. Service winner: 40-15. Isner can’t handle a kind of low volley: 40-30. Isner holds to consolidate his break. He’s up 4-1.

Isner took a pill during the change over and was intensely toweling down (massaging?) his right calf.

30-30 on Rafa’s serve game. Second serve. Isner sends a ball long: 40-30. Rafa holds for 2-4.

The net cord shows Rafa some intense love and allows a ball to just bounce over: 15-15. Isner flubs a short-ish ball: 15-30. Rafa challenges and ace call, but it was good: 30-30. Rafa miss-hits a return: 40-30. Rafa tracks down a ball, it’s called out as he hits a winner, the chair overrules and they’ll replay the point. Rafa not happy. Smart serve and second shot from Isner, he holds for 5-2.

Time is called, but Rafa’s busy re-tying his shoes. Rafa sends a ball long: 0-15. Must win game for Rafa. Isner sends a shot long: 15-15. Again – a “vamos” from Rafa: 30-15. Second serve. Another long shot from Isner: 40-15. Second serve. Double fault: 40-30. Rafa nets a ball: deuce. Isner sends a ball long: game point. Second serve. Rafa holds for 3-5. Isner can take the second set his next service game.

At 15-15, Rafa can’t get a return back: 30-15. Nice serve and volley from Isner: 40-15. Isner serves an ace to take set 2: 6-3.

Only 6 winners and 8 UFEs that set. Step it up, Rafa.

Trainer out working on Isner’s right hand.

Isner has control of a point, but nets a forehand: 15-0. Nice wide serve from Rafa and a “vamos” to go with it: 30-0. Rafa holds at love to start off the 3rd set.

Blistering forehand from Isner: 15-0. Beautiful angle from Rafa: 30-15. Isner nets a ball: 30-30. Rafa mishits a return: 40-30. Beautifully angled forehand from Isner and he holds for 1-1.

Isner held despite getting no first serves in that game. I don’t like that.

Rafa holds at love. That? I like.

Isner nets a shot: 15-15. Pass from Rafa draws a poor volley from Isner – Rafa tracks it down for a winner: 15-30. Second serve. Rafa hits a fluffy return, but Isner bashes it into the net: 15-40. Isner moves Rafa well and Rafa sends a shot long: 30-40. Fierce forehand brings it back to deuce. Isner hesitates at net and hits the ball into it: break point. Rafa breaks! He goes up 3-1 in the third.

Isner sends a shot barely long: 15-0. Freddy Couples in the stands watching. Rafa sails a slice: 15-15. Isner ends a rally by hitting a ball long: 30-15. Beautiful forehand and a “Vamos!” – 40-15. Rafa holds for a 4-1 lead in the third.

Rafa sends a ball way long: 15-0. Isner gets to 40-15, but sends a ball long: 40-30. Another wide and it’s deuce. Rafa sends a shot long: game point. Holy crap that was a lovely return from Rafa: deuce. Next return goes long: game point. Rafa’s looping return barely lands in, but Isner can’t quite handle it: deuce. Ace. Double fault from Isner: deuce. Isner sends a shot long: break point. Beautiful volley from Isner saves the break point. Isner nets a ball: break point. Saved that one with another excellent serve/volley combo. Isner sends a shot wide: break point. Rafa nets a returnable second serve: deuce. Service winner: game point. Isner aces to hold the longest game of the match. He’s down 2-4 in the third.

Isner sends a backhand into the cheap seats: 15-0. Rafa mishits a forehand: 15-15. A “Vamos!” from Rafa as he goes up 30-15. Lovely forehand redirected down the line gets Rafa a game point. Rafa holds. He leads 5-2. Isner to serve to stay in the match.

Oh, that was sweet. Rafa up on Isner’s serve. Rafa sends a ball long and looks ticked: 15-30. Excellent serve from Isner: 30-30. Ace: 40-30. Isner holds for 3-5. Rafa has a chance to serve the match out.

Isner nets a ball: 15-0. Beautiful passing shot from Rafa: 30-0. Fantastic forehand from Isner: 30-15. Isner sends a shot long: match point for Rafa. Second serve. Rafa wins! 7-5, 3-6, 6-3.

48 Responses

  1. Phyzzie says:

    That serve. Those ground strokes. The bananas. The complete and total heart. Aw…. our boy is back.
    Shorts… what shorts???

  2. An says:

    Yes Miri, indeed i was “nervious” the whole night, being at training myself and asumed the match would be over on my returning home… So surprised to see 3rd set and ( i do think it has nothing to de with it, just coincidence, No? ) but since i’ve watched Rafa seemed comfortable… Sharp and focused, finding some rediciously good returns on the 1st Isner serve and forehand still working verry well imo! :)

    How where the opninions off you all on the first two sets?

    • An says:

      And off course, thanks again Rafa honey! For making me go to sleep with “colm” now;)

      Buena suerte for doubles with Marc! later on.


      • sia says:

        An, the first set was clean and impressive, he had those 2 DFs one after another in the second and John is too good a player to let that go and it shifted the balance; but he was pretty clean again in the last set. Apart from those DFs he served quite well and his forehand was really on in the first set.
        He was oviously waiting for you to get home to see him play.

        • sia says:

          He also had writing on his hand again tonight.

          • An says:

            Thank you Sia!
            “He was oviously waiting for you to get home to see him play”
            Hah… Thats so sweet, like to think so…

            But wait, that explains the writing on the hand…
            must be timetables, No? How late is here, how late is it in the Netherlands:)))))

            • CC says:

              Yep, he had the times right there on his hand:
              When An will get back from training and needs a shower with Rafa.
              When CC needs to be in bed.
              When Rafa needs to be in bed with CC…etc. etc. ;)

  3. Stf says:

    I watched most of the match, except the part where Isner broke Rafa in the second set. But the man is back, many shots were vintage Rafa, just simply unbelievable shots. If he continues playing like that, I don’t see who could possibly beat him. He was focused, except that game that cost him the set. It’s always very hard playing against a big server but he coped just fine. With Djokovic out, it seems that his way to the final is open enough…vamos Rafa!

    • Karen says:

      Watched whole match on TennisTV and all I can say is I do believe our beloved, adorable Rafa is back. Vamos Team Nadal and all his patient faithful fans!!!

  4. patzin says:

    This match was similar to Karlovic. Rafa knows how to play the big guys. A break in second set and he re-grouped in third set. Was worried briefly he was pulling a Federer in second set. Rafa looked confident for 99% of the time and in control. Signs are good for deeper into the tournie for him.

  5. emir says:

    oh boy did i get nervous..YEAH..i mean robotic players like isner kills me..evertime he serves i close my eyes prays that he missed the first serve..well rafa didnt make the life any easier for himself by playing very bad game,i mean two double faults in one game IS A CRIME,which he paid the price by losing the set..i am very happy abaut this victory,isner is a very diffuclt oppnent and his rnaking is 15,very near the top ten..the third set also could have been 6 1,but when there is rafa,there is drama..

  6. Nada H T says:

    Watched the whole game :)


  7. Isabelle says:

    Oh how sweet! Got to watch the entire match. He was focused and stayed calm throughout, just kept at the job at hand. I agree with patzin that Rafa’s experience with Karlovic is valuable.

  8. aRafaelite says:

    Brad Gilbert was tweeting about how to win against the big servers by not losing your own serve, but my take is simple – Rafa wins against the big servers by being one of the best returners in the business. Holding your own is one thing, but you also need to be able to break theirs. And he’s shown again and again that he can.

    He had his (horrible) wobble in the second set, but everyone was asking if he’s ready to rise to a more challanging opponent, and he answered loud and clear: YES! Vamos Nadalek! You have a pretty clear path to the final… take it one match at a time, no, but win this damn thing, will you?!

    I really do like Isner though (when he’s not playing against Rafa). He has a really complete game when he needs to use it, and although he showed some nerves towards the end, more experience will knock that on the head, and I have no doubt he’s going to start giving the Big Boys some real trouble, real soon. Future Top Ten player at the very least. But not today :-)

    • tiemyshoe says:

      I like Isner, too, even though he’s a Freaky Tall (tm miri). He’s cute, and I like the way he always dribbles the ball between his legs while preparing to serve. But I’m impressed by his ambition to be a good all-’round player, even taking Djokovic to five sets ON CLAY.

      The only thing is that between him and Querry, the direction of young American tennis has gone even more the way of bombastic serve + mediocre ground game, which I find lame.

    • Stf says:

      I would have to disagree with your take on Isner…I don’t think he’s a complete player at all. He is a big server but all the times I’ve watched him play, he seems to me that he has no complexity in his game, he can’t really keep up in rallies, he can be very sloppy at his returns and some shots and he’s a very slow mover. If he causes any trouble, it’s because he has a big serve. And the point is to use your complete game anyway, not just when you need it. But that’s just my opinion. :)

      • aRafaelite says:

        Well, we can agree to disagree, but I think it’s a mistake to write him off as just another big server with no other aspects to his game. I agree he’s not used to long rallies, particularly on his own serve, but how many people can return his serve like Rafa did today anyway?! He hit a couple of explosive forehands, and came in and hit some fantastic volleys today as well. Steve Tignor had this to say after today’s match “Isner: where did he get the return, the ground strokes, the volleys? Not just better than last year. Like a new player. Moves with some fluidity and maybe even . . . explosiveness?” I think he’s shaping up to be a fine player, and one to watch out for (or should that be, look up for?! ;-)

      • TeamNadal says:

        I agree about Isner, I think time will tell whether or not he will become a complete player. He makes way too many unforced errors. As for Rafa, with the exception of that second set, I thought he played beautifully. He played a smart aggressive match.

      • Zooni says:

        I agree Stf. And as we saw last night, when he’s not serving well, his whole game collapses. He’s got a very powerful weapon in that serve (22 aces but he STILL didn’t win the match!) but he’s got to develop the other parts of his game too. I agree he’ll be top ten very soon though.

  9. Rafafan says:

    Yep I agree with you all. Have to be honest. On hard court this is Rafa’s favourite surface so if he doesn’t win he will be crucified (ie. very very slow hard court! – no wonder he likes being here favourite surface etc, golf, desert, lots of space, sunshine etc.) US and the WTF 02 is a completely different “kettle of fish” and have to say it i don’ t thnk he will win those 2 tourneys at any stage (hope someone proves me wrong!). But heah I have been wrong b4!Anyway to this absolutely awesome Rafa, and not only does Rafa fans miss him so much you cn see what the commentators are saying. They absolutely love him, adore hime and can’t get enough of him on sky! No mention of the shorts either. They are just in awe over him. Thank you SKY and your commentators for the love of Rafa xxx

    • Rafafan says:

      PS: now I am waiting for his doubles and gonna stay up and watch the score card! unless anyone else thinks they gonna see it live – in England and for free. Watching the sod at the moment (soderling – sorry Miri) and he looks like he gonna go through. Would love to see Sod..er..ling play Rafa in the final and Raf play the sh…t out of him. Fed and now Novak out so it’s between Murray or Berdych (who I know Rafa has a history with – which they mentioned on sky – but I think its w”ater under th bridge”). Vamos Rafa in the doubles!!! xxx

      • Rafafan says:

        Meant to say I think at the end of the day Rafa may have a hard time with sod-er-ling but I think he will win x

  10. tiemyshoe says:

    I get antsy/anxious when people write Rafa in for finalist from the bottom half, so will refrain from getting too enthusiastic. Nonetheless, it was nice to see him so pumped up! When Rafa’s hitting big winners down the line and making ah-mazing returns, it’s a good sign.

    His first set stats are fantastic, too. Couldn’t have asked for more, really.

  11. Necitas says:

    It felt really bad to the eye looking at Isner. Miri, I second that “freaky” thing…:D

    • Necitas says:

      He’s so tall, the tennis racket looked like a spoon on him…I can’t get over his physical appearance, so discomforting. :)

  12. Rafangel says:

    He was awesome. Well, in the 1st and 3rd anyway. Look forward to hearing what happened in that game in the 2nd. SO exciting to see these shots again.

    I really don’t think Berdych on hard is an easy draw. I’m sorry it’s not Troicki, actually: I was really hoping he’d make it to the quarters because it’s so fantastic to have made it to the 4th round by winning ONE GAME (not one match, one game). Heh.

    Sick as a parrot about Davy :( But how hard is he, winning a match with a broken wrist?!

  13. TheBia says:

    I’m a huge Rafa fan, but I just wanted to say Rafa was not good enough today, he was too passive today again, just think if John did not make those stupid UEs just behind the net, he had lots of problem with action that Rafa puts on the ball, especially at the beginning of the opening set, after that he found himself, but you know, do you think the other top opponents like Murray, Davy, Novak, Soderling and … play like John? no, I don’t think so, they are capable to handle his topspin shots very very easily, if Rafa is going to continue his passive style of game, using short shots, loopy shot, heavy topspin shots, I do believe hi is not able to defend his title this year, it’s my opinion.

    • Stf says:

      Davy is out, Djokovic is out and if Rafa reaches the final, it’ll be either against Murray or Soderling, probably. He has beaten Soderling recently, Murray doesn’t really look his best…it works out nicely, no? ;)

      • TheBia says:

        I didn’t mean just at this tournament, yes I see those guys are out here, but overall this kind of playing style is not suitable for the most of other hard court tournaments, I want Rafa to play aggressively as he did in the beginning of this year in Abu Dhabi, even his previous match against Ancic, but I dunno why he is not able to keep up this job consistently in every match, sometimes good, aggressive but sometime too passive, remember his match against Almagro in Paris, that was terrible, he was too passive even when Almagro was injured!!! but after that against Tsonga he played very well, what caused that? why he is not always aggressive?

        • miri says:

          He won the matches you are talking about, no? (Except for the Ancic one.) Perhaps he’s doing what it takes to win against the opponent rather than sticking to a certain style? Also, he was still battling a torn tummy muscle late last year – can’t forget that. If your core isn’t solid, aggressive play is even more difficult.

        • Stf says:

          Well, not only did he win all of those matches but I think that this was around the time that he was starting to sort of change his style of play. It’s obvious that he’s now trying to play a much more mixed game, so maybe this is where this inconsistency stems from. But you can just now see that the brilliance is still there and he’s getting back on track, whereas a few months back, we weren’t even sure he would get back on track. He’s not how he used to be – he has changed and grown up as well – but I’m confident that if he gets IW, it will all be uphill from there, it’ll be the boost he needs. It’s his chance really. I do think that if he wins in IW, he will get the number 2 spot again, no? Which is even better. Order will be restored, partly. It’ll be restored fully when he gets to number 1 again. ;)

  14. jimmy says:

    Good match for Nadal. Overall, he looked smart and sharp-

    -The nice thing in this match was that Nadal was standing close to the baseline while returning serve. Much closer than he did against Ancic, and as close as he did against Karlovic in the Australian Open. This is a heartening trend, and is in line with what the best returners do. When you stand back against a tall server, because of the high trajectory of their ball, it just puts more space between you and the ball. That makes it harder to connect and puts you on the defensive instantly. It’s worth stepping in, hitting the ball on the rise and taking time away from your opponent as he approaches the net.

    Nadal did this and despite being aced on numerous occasions, he read Isner’s serve very well in general and returned impressively.

    – The key to an analysis of Nadal’s form (in my opinion) is always how well he hits his inside out forehand. When he’s confident and moving well, he sets it up so well and absolutely nails that shot. That and the backhand crosscourt can instantly change the dynamic of a neutral rally on a fast court. There were glimpses of those two shots in full flow today. With more confidence they could get better.

    – The serving was a little patchy today. Hopefully that can be improved as the tournament progresses. There was a bit of a dip in the 2nd set with one horrible game where he had two double faults and an UE gifted Isner the break (and the set). But that’s always a problem when playing someone like Isner or Karlovic. Nadal did look shaken at that time. Perhaps he wouldn’t have made that mistake a year ago, but he recovered nicely in the 3rd set.

    Now the real test will be when Nadal comes up against higher ranked players. It will be vital to keep the same attitude and aggressive approach. Berdych should be a good test. Although Berdych had given Nadal trouble in the past, Nadal has turned the tide handily against him recently. That said, Berdych is playing well here, and it could be interesting.

    Finally, it was great to see Nadal so psyched after the win.
    He wanted this one badly. And so he should.

  15. Atch2 says:

    Jimmy, I like reading your technical take on Rafa’s games, and from almost everyone’s comments, Rafa seems to be rockin ‘n rollin. He looked really colm and focussed from games I saw in the last set. I have a concern though about whether he will be tired from playing both singles and doubles.

    Man Isner is tall. Really tall. During Isner’s long service game that took 6mins or something, I noticed that he almost touched the top and bottom of my tv screen (or was the cameraman zoomed in too much?). Wonder if Nike customer makes his clothes too or if they have his size already in the US. And 22 aces? That’s like 5 free games.

    Luved the lawnmower at the end of the match. Missed that.

    Gonna catch the replay tonight.

    Berdy next.

    • Cora F says:

      Same here Jimmy… good input about the match… Our Rafa definitely is finding his form back… he will going deeper into the tourney! Amazing Rafa!

  16. annabelle says:

    So proud of you, Rafa!

  17. djb says:

    Wow!! I’m amazed at Rafa’s confidence right now. First he goes out and chops down the big ISNER tree, then heads back to the court to win yet another doubles match w/Marc. Could life be any sweeter? Now that Mr. Drama Queen lost to Ljubicic, there’s nobody to stop Rafa now from getting to the final. Not Berdych! Not Ljubicic! and not even Juan Monaco!

    Isner played well, but the errors killed his chance. Even though he’s come a long way, Isner still has improvements to make, especially his footwork and body language. Rafa played a brilliant match. He knew just when to go for the blow, and he flat out delivered!

    I think we all should be impressed at how Rafa has come into IW and played such confident tennis, especially after spending several weeks away from the game. The more I watch him, the more I realize how special of a player he truly is.

  18. emir says:

    seriously everybody is always cricising rafa so easily,but they are talking abaut top ten players..but rafa is the one who is still playing at his worst surface..rafa is the ONLY PLAYER WHO DIDNT HAVE BAD DEFEAT…novak roger murray they all lost to the players they shouldnt supposed to lose in their FAVAURITE SURFACE..which is hard…anything can happen but i like the way rafa playing this year so much better than season ending…but he will always have hsi bad match ups on hard court..

    • Rafangel says:

      Thanks, emir, all good points that we need to remember. Also think djb is spot on: “I think we all should be impressed at how Rafa has come into IW and played such confident tennis, especially after spending several weeks away from the game. The more I watch him, the more I realize how special of a player he truly is.”

      He still amazes me.

  19. CC says:

    OMG. I must admit I was a little worried about this match, but I obviously needn’t have been.
    I’m sure John is a lovely boy, but his tennis I’m not keen on. Rafa’s tennis on the other hand, I’m terribly fond of. So glad he could focus again after that second set and whip the American into place! Mr Isner looked pretty exhausted in the third, whereas Rafa looked awesome and full of energy!

  20. Lou Lou says:

    Wow, Nadal played beatifullly!… Minus the minor second set hiccup, this was an aewsome performance. He served sooo well, his strokes were great, forehand was on fire but what I’m most happy about is his timing!! his service returns were amazing!!

  21. Ch F says:

    I agree he got shaky in the 2nd set and had us worried but it cannot be compared to other times after injuries when he seemed to seriously doubt whether he could win. The 2df in the second set obviously upset him but in the beginning of the 3rd he was ok. His return of serve is getting better and his focus was very good in general. Hopefully the days of no serving matches out and squandering opportunities are in the past. He knew he had to hold serve in the third and he did. He served it out confidently. I think he had no UE in the first set. A lot of his(and our) favourite shots are back, lovely, impossible ones. His placement was good as well.

  22. Emma R says:

    Think there is general agreement that the game is getting there, but what was really encouraging was the recovery from the balls up in the second set to recover in the third. I also thought he took his chances very well when he had them – again other than the wobble in the third.

    Thrilled with the confidence and the sense of how much he wants this – the earthy growls of pleasure at certain shots were a joy to hear, as was the multiple lawn mower, and the celebration at the end. I feel like he wants it so much he could pop, and he looked so bursting with enthusiasm in the interview after the match on Sky TV that I wanted to go and hurl myself at him. Think going to three sets and winning has done him a power of good, and I am so hoping he can maintain the confidence. Bring on Berdych and Ljubicic-the-boiled-egg. I am not looking further than them at the moment.

  23. faeaki7 says:

    Great comments Jimmy as always, I hate to say he is playing well as not to jinx him! the playing doubles bit too ( although we know why for match practice), worries me, as far as fatigueness is concerned, gotta admire him though! Berdych is playing well and its going to be a tough one.

  24. sia says:

    This match is being re-broadcast right now 2;30 ast one hour earlier then NY time (on TSN).