Rome: Survivor

Photo by REUTERS/Max Rossi

In the day’s second semi-final match, Rafa played #40 Ernests Gulbis – the perpetual underachiever who has spent the week living up to his potential after taking out Federer in the 2nd round. This was, in short, a nail biting match. Trust me on that. Gublis was on fire and pushing Rafa all over the place. Rafa managed to pull out the first set, but his errors increased in the second and Gulbis was on fire. The third? Was a total pick’em. Gulbis’s errors increased, but his serve kept him in the match. I’m still not entirely sure how Rafa won this (if I had a penny for every time I’ve said that), but he managed to break at the perfect time to take the third set and the match: 6-4. 3-6, 4-6.


Nadal Gulbis
Statistics on Serve
Aces 0 14
Double Faults 1 2
1st Serve % 77% 77%
1st Serve Points Won 50/72 (69%) 62/85 (73%)
2nd Serve Points Won 12/22 (55%) 7/25 (28%)
Break Points Saved 6/7 (86%) 10/12 (83%)
Service Games Played 14 15
Statistics on Return
1st Return Points Won 23/85 (27%) 22/72 (31%)
Second Return Points Won 18/25 (27%) 10/22 (45%)
Break Points Won 2/12 (17%) 1/7 (14%)
Return Games Played 15 14
Statistics on Points
Total Service Points Won 62/94 (66%) 69/110 (63%)
Total Return Points Won 41/110 (37%) 32/94 (34%)
Total Points Won 103/204 (50%) 101/204 (50%)
Other Stats
Winners 18 50
Unforced errors 23 56
Net Approaches 12/21 (57%) 15/22 (68%)

As it happened blatherings:

Players on court getting ready to warm up. Mo in the chair.

Rafa wins the toss and elects to receive.

Rafa nets a service return 15-0. (My cat breaks a glass I stupidly left on the kitchen counter and I have to mess with that.) Rafa breaks for a 1-0.

Double fault. Gulbis sends a forehand just long: 15-15. Angled forehand winner from Rafa: 30-15. Gulbis wins the battle of the drop shots with a nice cross court passing shot: 30-30. Gulbis sends a backhand just long: 40-30. Nice combo from Rafa as he knocks off a winner: 2-0.

Dropper winner from Gulbis: 15-0. Rafa runs down a short, wide, angled shot and just misses the reply: 30-0. Beauty of a forehand winner off a defensive service return: 40-0. Service winner and Gulbis holds at love for 1-2.

Gulbis nets a second serve return: 15-0. Rafa misses a forehand wide and takes a deep breath: 15-15. Fault called, Mo loudly overrules. Gulbis tees off on a very short ball from Nadal but sends it way out: 30-15. Rafa’s forehand is into the net: 30-30. Gulbis blasts a forehand mid-rally and Rafa nets the reply: 30-40. Short reply from Gulbis and Rafa comes into the net and hits a drop shot volley winner: deuce. Service winner: game point. Gulbis nets a service reply: 3-1.

Rafa hits a very short defensive ball that Gulbis tries to drop shot back, but it lands in the net: 0-15. Strong forehand from Gulbis that Rafa can’t quite get a racket on. Gulbis nets a ball: 15-30. Gulbis sends a ball well out: 15-40. Pulled deep and wide, Rafa sends a forehand just long: 30-40. Ace: deuce. Second serve ace: game point. Mid rally, Gulbis nets a ball: deuce. Ace: game point. Rafa pushes Gulbis deep and draws an error: deuce. Rafa puts up a high sitter and Gulbis volleys it right into the net: break point. Service winner: deuce. Good serve, into the net, pops off 2 good volleys – the second a winner: game point. Gulbis holds.

Why do I keep typing Bulbis?

hcfoo: Someone should create a Fan page dedicated to Ernie’s hair

Kalliopeia: I’m finding Gulbis and his crazy person hair oddly attractive.
Kalliopeia: That might say something about my taste in men, I don’t know.

Gulbis nets a service return: 15-0. He then sends a return sailing: 30-0. And another service winner: 40-0. Rafa sends a forehand long: 40-15. Running left, Rafa sends a forehand well long: 40-30. Rafa holds for a 4-2 lead.

Ace: 15-0. Rafa hits the ball hard and fast to Gulbis’s feet and knocks off a winner from the weak reply: 15-15. Beautiful running forehand down the line winner from Gulbis: 30-15. Gulbis nets another drop shot attempt. Service winner: 40-30. Mid rally, Gulbis sends a shot long: deuce. Nice serve and volley: game point. And then nets an easy looking forehand: deuce. Gulbis sends a shot long: break point. Rafa totally miss times a shot and sends it long: deuce. Good dropper from Gulbis and Rafa can’t get it over the net: game point. At the net, Rafa pushes him back and Gulbis can’t handle a high backhand: deuce. Short defensive reply and Gulbis hits a backhand winner: game point. Gulbis sends a backhand long: deuce. Service winner: game point. Rafa into the net, Gulbis tries to push him back with a semi-lob, Rafa semi-smashes it back and then pops a winner off the high reply: deuce. Ace: game point. Rafa nets a drop attempt and Gulbis holds for 3-4.

Rafa’s defensive skills keep him in a point until he can work things into his favor and push Gulbis wide to draw an error: 15-0. Service winner: 30-0. Gulbis nets a ball: 40-0. Rafa holds at love: 5-3.

Fierce forehand winner from Gulbis: 15-0. Ace: 30-0. Service winner: 40-0. Rafa slips on a return and it’s 5-4.

Rafa still hasn’t reached his Monte-Carlo form, but he’s also playing someone who’s pushing him a lot.

TennisConnected: Gulbis is making almost 80% of his first serves in, and he’s losing. That says something about Nadal’s return on clay.

Rafa’s serving for the set. Gulbis nets a ball: 15-0. He can’t quite handle a service return: 30-0. Beautiful drop shot from Gulbis: 30-15. Rafa sends a shot long: 30-30. Rafa totally frames a ball: 30-40. Gulbis sends a serve return just out: deuce. Rafa nets a forehand: break point #2. Gulbis sends a shot long: deuce. Gulbis sends a return sailing: game point. Gulbis nets a ball and Rafa takes the first set 6-4. 58 minutes; 6 winners; 9 UREs; 4/8 net points; 79% first serves in. 18 winners and 22 UFEs from Gulbis.

Papa Nadal in his Nike bull cap up and applauding.

TennisConnected: Interesting stat: Nadal taking an avg. of 29 seconds between serves; what’s the legal time again? Gulbis taking 28.3 seconds.

Double fault: 0-15. 0-30. Rafa sends a service return out: 15-30. Winning drop shot from Gulbis: 30-30. Good serve, defensive return, winner: 40-30. Lovely forehand and Gulbis holds: 1-0.

Gulbis hits a return long: 15-0. Running around a backhand, Rafa sends a forehand wide: 30-0. Running wide, Rafa nets a forehand: 30-15. 30-30. Massive forehand from Gulbis that Rafa barely gets back. Gulbis knocks off a winner at the net: 30-40. Gulbis sends a service return sailing: deuce. Rafa miss hits a ball and sends a short high floaty thing barely over the net. Gulbis tries to tee off on it and nets it: game point. Rafa sends a backhand long: deuce. Drop attempt from Rafa lets Gulbis take control of a point and he ends it on a winner: break point. Rafa runs around his backhand and nets the forehand. Gulbis breaks for a 2-0 lead.

First service game Rafa’s lost in the tournament.

TennisConnected: When the rallies are kept under three shots, Gulbis has won 21. 5 more than Nadal. When the rallies are extended past 8 shots Nadal wins 3-1

Rafa can’t handle the serve: 15-0. Gulbis hits behind Rafa: 30-0. Gulbis sends a shot wide: 30-15. Rafa miss hits a forehand: 40-15. Easy hold for Gulbis. He’s up 3-0.

Too many errors from Rafa. His timing is off.

Ataraxis00: All of their matches have gone 3 sets. Maybe the trend continues.

Two good serves and bad returns: 30-0. Rafa pushes Gulbis deep with two forehands in row, but misses a smash: 30-15. Rafa sends a forehand wide: 30-30. *settle, Rafa* Fierce cross-court forehand winner from Rafa: 40-30. Rafa holds for 1-3.

Mo out on the court to fix the net cord sensor.

Short defensive shot and Gulbis goes into the net and knocks off a winner: 15-0. Gulbis sends a backhand well wide: 15-15. Gulbis sends a forehand just long: 15-30. Excellent serve that Rafa can’t handle: 30-30. Ace: 40-30. Gulbis sends a forehand well wide: deuce. Rafa tracks down the dropper and smashes the reply lob for a winner: break point. Excellent serve out wide: deuce. Defensive reply from Rafa and Gulbis semi-smashes the winner: game point. Gulbis pushes Rafa deep and draws an error. He’s up 4-1.

Rafa into the net, don’t quite put the smash away and has to paint the line with another smash to take the point: 15-0. Gulbis nets a ball: 30-0. Gulbis fires off a forehand winner from the baseline: 30-15. Rafa nets a backhand: 30-30. Gulbis lines up his shot, but sends it just long: 40-30. Rafa holds for 2-4.

Ataraxis00: Ok, I finally had to get out of bed and log on. Rafa needs to focus.

Excellent serve that Rafa can’t handle: 15-15. Rafa sends a forehand out – sounds like it didn’t hit much in the way of strings: 30-15. Service winner: 40-15. Defense to offense and a lovely backhand down the line winner from Rafa: 40-30. Another excellent serve and Gulbis holds for 5-2. Rafa will serve to stay in the set.

Ataraxis00: Ernie’s serve is just brutal and beautiful. Effortless.

Rafa pushes Gulbis back and draws an error: 15-0. Gulbis sends a shot out: 30-0. Rafa nets a backhand: 30-15. Rafa nets a forehand: 30-30. Gulbis nets a forehand: 40-30. Rafa sends a forehand just wide: deuce. Some un-tidy tennis going on at the moment. Rafa totally miss hits a forehand and sends the ball sailing: break and set point. Second serve. Rafa pulls Gulbis wide and draws an error: deuce. Gulbis sends a back hand way wide: game point. Rafa threads the needle with a forehand down the line winner to hold. Gulbis will have to serve to take the set.

TennisConnected: 13 UFE’s off of Nadal’s forehand.

Ace. Forehand winner: 30-0. Gulbis sends a forehand long: 30-15. Drop shot and volley winner: 40-15. Gulbis holds to take the second set. 51 minutes. From Rafa: 5 winners; 13 UFEs; 2/3 at net; 72 % first serves. 18 winners; 4 UFEs; 5/6 at net from Gulbis. First set Rafa’s lost in 2 years in Rome.

Rafa really needs to tidy things up in the third.

Long rally ends with a UFE from Rafa: 0-15. Pushed wide, Rafa sends a shot long. Or is it? Mo comes out and says it’s in – replay the point. Not the best dropper from Gulbis and Rafa knocks it off for a winner: 15-15. Fierce cross court forehand from Gulbis lands in the corner for a winner: 15-30. Long rally ends with an error from Gulbis: 30-30. Gulbis wins the battle of the droppers: 30-40. Gulbis on fire; Rafa need to turn up the heat. Rafa pushes Gulbis a bit wide and Gulbis sends the backhand out: deuce. Gulbis pulls Rafa in with a dropper; pushes him back with a lob…but Rafa ends up winning the point after a bad shot selection from Gulbis: game point. With a forehand winner, Rafa holds and lets out some loud Vamoses. He’s trying to kick that next gear in.

Ataraxis00: Rafa is screaming at himself. Maybe he’s fired up now after that difficult hold. Ernie is in the zone, he’ll have to be more aggressive.

Winning dropper this time: 15-0. Ace: 30-0. Serve out wide, shot to opposite side: 40-0. Fierce forehand wide from Rafa and he follows it in to knock off a winner at the net: 40-15. Gulbis holds.

Gulbis appears to be playing well within himself whereas Rafa is going to have to go outside his comfort zone to turn the tide.

Gulbis sends a shot wide. Forehand winner from Gulbis after he takes control of a rally: 15-15. Gulbis nets a ball: 30-15. Excellent serve from Rafa: 40-15. Stress-free hold from Rafa for 2-1. More like that, please.

Service winner: 15-0. Dropper, down the line return, Gulbis gets the ball back at Rafa’s feet and he can’t handle it: 30-0. Dropper and this time, it’s Rafa who gets the shot back where Gulbis can’t deal: 30-15. Service winner: 40-15. Easy hold for Gulbis. 2-2.

Gulbis sends a backhand wide: 15-0. Some sort of loud alarm thing goes off mid-point when Gulbis had Rafa pushed way back. Replay point.

Kalliopeia: what was that?
Kalliopeia: oh no, haha. someone’s getting beat up later.

Rafa holds at love with a little bit of help from a sound malfunction in the stadium.

Gulbis nets a drop shot attempt. (I need to make macros for “drop shot” and “dropper”.) Gulbis nets a forehand: 0-30. And then he sends one long: 0-40. Rafa looks like he’s about ready to hurl – he doesn’t look with colm. Service winner: 15-40. Short return and Gulbis stomps all over it: 30-40. Another return Rafa can barely get his racket on: deuce. Gulbis sends a backhand wide: break point. Defensive second serve return from Rafa and Gulbis hits hard and deep to Rafa’s forehand. Rafa gets the ball back at Gulbis’s fee, but he handles the volley: deuce. Another battle of the volleys and Gulbis wins: game point. Rafa really should have done better on that, the drop shot from Gulbis wasn’t that good. Gulbis holds.

Rafa nets a backhand: 0-15. Gulbis sends a backhand wide: 15-15. Another – this time in the opposite direction and even wider: 30-15. Amazing backhand down the line winner from Gulbis. Oh, no – Mo says the mark is out. Hawkeye backs him up: 40-15. Rafa holds: 4-3.

Gulbis sends a forehand long: 0-15. Gulbis pulls Rafa wide and then fires off a forehand winner: 15-15. The Tennis Channel just died. *fires up* Ace: 30-30. Gulbis pulls Rafa wide and then lines up his shot…and nets the ball: 30-40. Rafa sends a service return long: deuce. Again with a long service return: game point. Excellent point from Gulbis and he holds for 4-4.

Rafa makes a pathetic drop shot attempt: 0-15. Gublis sends a shot out: 15-15. Gublis smashes a winner: 15-30. Pushes Rafa back and wide, drop shots, Rafa gets it back and Gulbis nets the reply: 30-30. Gulbis nets a backhand: 40-30. Toni is out of his seat. Rafa holds…and yells…a lot: 5-4.

Ataraxis00: This just goes to show what kind of out of your mind level of tennis it takes to truly push Rafa on clay.

Misguided drop shot attempt from Gulbis: 0-15. Rafa jumps on another short ball and hits a backhand down the line winner: 0-30. Cross-court backhand that Gulbis can’t put back in court: 0-40. Ace, Rafa disagrees. Mo agrees with him. Second serve. Rafa breaks and wins!!!

137 Responses

  1. JanP says:

    Yes, great match, but oh-so-nail-biting, etc.! And, Tennis Channel lost the signal in the 3rd set–really crucial game, but, luckily, got it back later. Really liked your analysis, Jimmy. I had watched Gulbis in his other matches and knew he would be trouble for Rafa–what a serve. Once he gets more focused, he’s going to be trouble, as he already was for so many players. Agree with all who said it’s good for Rafa to be challenged like this, and this was a major challenge, which he endured and will be better for it, for sure! Almost cried when Rafa won–what a relief! and loved his camera signing!

    Love the site, Miri, and everyone’s comments.

  2. Ch F says:

    I actually thought it was an entertaining match, breathtaking, but can’t say the same about Rafa’s play. I thought he played a bad match and I’m wondering why.
    I know, Gulbis was confident and all, he served great(I don’t know how many lines he touched even with second serves, really) but whenever Rafa played with a bit more depth and pace he couldn’t cope. This shows that it was Rafa who let him dictate the points.
    Again, too many short balls. I’ve mentioned that before, it is easier to cope with the results of those on clay but the day will come when some opponent will crush them and Rafa will be having a bad day so short balls will lose him the match. It almost happened today, Gulbis made plenty of winners out of those. With his forehand not working as usual, he almost lost the match. In fact, in a way it was the umpire who helped him win it by overruling that ace at 0-40. It was a blow for the less experienced Gulbis who owed a lot to his great serving throughout the match and caused him to lose the next point and the match.
    That said, this victory means a lot to Rafa because he managed to lose on a bad day against a dangerous opponent. Vamos!

    • emir says:

      for sure rafa could have played a lot better especially in the second set but for short ball thing in gulbis service games it is hard to find the length you mentined RAFA WON MORE THAN 72 PERCENT OF THE POINTS WHEN GULBIS HIT HIS SECOND SERVE,so the when gulbis hit his first dont expect rafa to find length,it is IMPOSSIBLE,but he could have played a lot better in the second set..there were some really bad mistakes the service game he got broken also he was bit heavy HANDED against gulbis dropshots,i am glad that dropshots too many cost gulbis in the end ..but as i mentioned rafa was doing expectioanly well against gulbis second service so you can blame him that much..

    • Fay says:

      Yes I agree, when Rafa played his shots long like those b/h cross courts Gulbis couldn’t cope with them coupled with his forehand breaking down, he just stopped losing belief in shortening the points or producing winners, he really allowed Gulbis to dictate play and only the later stage of the 3rd set was Rafa threatening his serve more, so many errors from Rafa on both wings! he did well to grind this one out, because it was Gulbis’s day for sure most of the time! Albeit all the errors though Rafa although no aces, served pretty well %’s throughout the match even though he would say otherwise.. I hope he plays better tommorow, and whatever happens he needs to get back training, he said post MC because of the blister on his hand he had not been able to train well, this always effects him and his confidence in his shots!

      • Fay says:

        Sorry I mean’t timing on his shots not confidence!

        • Zooni says:

          There was a turning point for Rafa during that match, even though I can’t for the life of me figure out when or what that was. I think he said to himself after losing the 2nd set the way he did that he was NOT going to let what happened to him in IW and Miami happen to him again. He just wasn’t. And he didn’t.

          I feel ridiculously proud of him.

          • Ch F says:

            Me too. He was more focused during the last set, that’s for sure, but I think the turning point came rather late, during his last service game. He had some good points there and his focus during the following game was just amazing. It seemed to come out of nowhere but it did.

  3. ali says:

    i didn’t get to see any of the match, but it sure sounded stressful! i probably would’ve aged another 5 years watching it. so glad he managed to fight and win. bring on the final…

  4. emir says:

    i am bit late to write this but i have to go outside,after match..THATS IT..THIS IS THE KIND OF MATCH RAFA NEEDS TO WIN FOR THE CONFIDENCE..i mean it isnt even that important what will happen tommorow we all know rafa can win against david when he is well and ok,maybe tiredness can be a issue tommorow..i always enjoyed when rafa playing well and win some easy victories,but we ALL KNOW,this isnt doing that great for mental toughness .when you have diffuculy in a match when the things arent going that greatly..this match isnt any good for MY HEALTH,but very good for rafa very very much needed before fo..i also beleive there were times in that match that gulbis serving performance was outside of this world his balls are very powerful if you ask my honest opinion his balls are much faster than nole and fed..i am very happy abaut this victory but my life time is again SHORTENED BY THIS…

    • Nada H T says:

      Can’t agree more

      100% true !

      but I almost pulled my hair ! it was SCARY !

  5. Fay says:

    I know excatly how you feel Emir!

  6. Dale C. A. says:

    i was out of my seat the whole time, it goes down to who is mentally tough enough to finish the game and it always turns out to be Rafa..but it was a good tournament for Ernests, finally, he is coming out of the woodwork, i have been waiting for that in 3 years, but for now, i am ecstatic that Rafa in in the final…VAMOS!!!!!! and once again, thank you for the updates and the excellent posts :-))