RG: Well, 9 is his favorite number

REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

The short story: Seems like Rafa’s day is going even worse than mine as he lost to Djokovic in the Roland Garros quarterfinals: 5-7 3-6 1-6.

He’s lost here before. It didn’t kill him. He’ll survive. He still has 9 Roland Garros Trophies. No one can take that away from him. And at 70-2, he still has an impossibly good win/loss record at the tournament. (But I do want to give him a big hug.)

Nadal Djokovic
Statistics on Serve
Aces 3 3
Double Faults 2 0
1st Serve % 60% 63%
1st Serve Points Won 33/56 (59%) 38/50 (76%)
2nd Serve Points Won 14/37 (38%) 18/30 (60%)
Break Points Saved 11/18 (61%) 3/5 (60%)
Service Games Played 14 14
Statistics on Return
1st Return Points Won 12/50 (24%) 23/56 (41%)
Second Return Points Won 12/30 (40%) 23/37 (62%)
Break Points Won 2/5 (40%) 7/18 (39%)
Return Games Played 14 14
Statistics on Points
Total Service Points Won 47/93 (51%) 56/80 (70%)
Total Return Points Won 24/80 (30%) 46/93 (49%)
Total Points Won 71/173 (41%) 105/173 (61%)
Other Stats
Winners 16 45
Unforced errors 30 30
Net Approaches 11/24 (46%) 25/36 (69%)

(Hopefully I got the stats somewhat right. You can view more and double check me here.)

And here’s the notes I started during the match before all hell broke loose at work:

What’s more stressful than Rafole? Watching Rafole at work during a software roll-out project I’ve been working to get ready for 4 months. My stress level wasn’t helped with the way the match started: Djokovic looking calm and Rafa firing errors: Djokovic quickly went up 4-0. Then Rafa’s shots started landing in and Djokovic hit some nervous shots. Almost just as quickly, we were back on serve 4-4. Djokovic held at love, and Rafa found himself serving to stay in the set. Djokovic held two set points, but Rafa fought back to deuce once and saved the second with a drop shot winner (that was amazing). At that deuce, Rafa got a time violation warning (despite the fact Djokovic was also taking way too long on serve). Djokovic earned his third set point by wrong footing Rafa with a forehand winner. Again, Rafa saved with a drop shot. After 12 minutes, Rafa finally held for 5-5. Then the VP of my company came over to talk to me and I missed Djokovic holding for 6-5. When I looked up, Rafa Djokosmashed to 30-30 while serving at 5-6. Djokovic then drew a backhand error to get set point. This time, Rafa’s smash was good and we were back at deuce. Djokovic pulled Rafa in with a drop shot and then hit a volley winner: set point, again. Djokovic failed to return Rafa’s second serve: deuce. Again, Djokovic bossed a point: set point. First set: Djokovic: 7-5.

And then my work project blew up (it’s still blowing – so sorry this is a messy post).

73 Responses

  1. Superg74 says:

    Novak played very well not brilliant. Lack of power from Rafa, needs to find it again as shots fell short and easy for attack from Novak. Check this site all the time for news, it’s great but this is my first post. Keep up the fab work on our favourite boy!

  2. JayDee50 says:

    I’ve been thinking long and hard about Rafa’s situation over the last 3 years:

    Remember in 2012 the Wimbledon loss to Rosol. We didn’t see Rafa back on court again until early 2013 after his troublesome knee problems. With healthy knees, he went on an absolute win spree that year, and by the end of 2013 had worked his way back to World #1. It was as though he wanted to prove to himself that yes, he could come back and be a top player again. And prove it he did.

    He started off 2014 very well, winning Doha and making the Final of AO2014. Then the back problems arrived. Those back problems affected him for the whole of 2014 (as we learned at the end of that year when he received stem cell treatment for it). From that point on in 2014, after the disastrous AO Final, he was never the same player. The 2014 clay season was the worst one in his career (up until this one). After losing in Wimbledon 2014 we didn’t see him again until late in the season in the Asian swing. He hadn’t played for over 3 months. Then the appendicitis struck. Unsurprisingly, he lost early in Shanghai, after receiving massive doses of antibiotics. He attempted to play Basel only because he didn’t want to let the tournament down. Then he left again for an appendectomy which took place on 3 November. After only 6 weeks of recuperation, he was back on the tour in January 2015, openly declaring that he lacked confidence, hadn’t played in months and needed matches to start building up match fitness and confidence.

    The point I’m getting to is…..is his comeback this year just one comeback too many? Has he gone through so much that to make the effort again and again become an unachievable target?

    He wants to play; we know that. He’s working hard; we know that. But realistically, can he really get back to being at the top of the game after suffering defeat after defeat, all of which are soul-destroying. I’m wondering now if it’s just too much of an ask. This could be the start of his decline, which in hindsight, really began after the AO 2014 Final, because he’s slowly been in a downward spiral since that point.

    In 2013, he came back and proved everybody wrong. So, he’s already done the almost impossible. To do it a second time, now a full 2 years older, is maybe asking too much.

    • john f says:

      good thoughts JD, thanks

    • pasabolas says:

      I agree with you–decline started AO 2014 loss against a guy whom you’ve never lost to. I believe Wawrinka had never even taken a set from Rafa up to that point. Today I did not expect Rafa to win but was hoping for a close match, and had predicted a four setter. But after Rafa lost the first set, I changed my mind to straight sets. Nole came out with tactics that showed he’s analyzed his previous defeats and took away all Rafa’s weapons. The variety of his shots and the power he displayed was amazing to watch. Look at the the number of dropshots Nole attempted after driving Rafa back with deep penetrating shots. Look at the options he had when forcing Rafa wide on the forehand where Rafa invariably answer with a cross cout loopy forehand–he could dropshot, hit backhand down the line, hit an inside forehand cross court, all depending on how deep or penetrating Rafa’s FH was.
      Talk about the difference in power and precision. Nole had 46 winners; Rafa only 16.A 200 % difference. Rafa is getting bullied by many of the other top players, the likes of Wawrinka, Nishikori, and even more error-prone rivals like Almagro, Fognini, Dolgopolov. Rafa’s ability to defense has waned over the years, especially against the ones that are good at implementing Davidenko’s tactics, the only player that had a better head-to-head agains Nadal. But now we have Novak, who is a much superior player with apparently no weaknesses. Forehand used to be his weaker side but today he hit hit 23 FH winners vs three for Nadal. Without a FH, Nadal is just a mediocre player. He is not a clean striker of the ball and can mishit or hit short, as we have seen more this season. The loss in Madrid was embarrasing to watch.
      One could go on and on about how Rafa’s game has not kept up with the improvements of Djokovic in the last few years. I have harped on serve, return of serve, ineffectual backhand( except for passing shots). Also patterns of play are too predictable and don’t have enough variety.
      As to the future, I wish Rafa the best and hope he can rebound as he had before. But I am doubtful, as he’s getting older and his style of play has punished his body too much over the years. Rafa’s is not like a Federer, who has a wonderful serve and can get many free points and holds his serve comfortably. You’d hardly ever see him lose his serve twice in a set. Also the confidence part is not going to improve as you lose to lesser rivals more often. The psychological damage will be painful, and will undermine the hopes of rebounding to a former glory. Nadal has lost power in his shots, speed on the court, and the “fear factor” on clay is gone. As Djoker said many years ago “Nadal is beatble”– even if it took him 9 years.
      I doubt that Rafa will win a Grand Slam again.

      • haddie says:

        As saddened, and sickened as I am to admit it, but I have to agree.
        Anyopne who thinks that Rafa can bounce back from this is living in a fools .
        If he continues, as he says he will, he will have minimal success because he will be playing lesser ranked players in the early rounds of any tournament.
        The years of injuries and comebacks have taken their toll mentally.
        It is that mental strength that has made our champion so very difficult to beat.
        But that strength has become his weakness.
        His whole game has been built around it, and made him one of the most feared opponents on tour.. but he has been usurped and he is a mere shadow of the Rafa we have come to know and love. If, and maybe he will, bounce back to that lofty position again at the age of 29yrs it is going to take a herculean effort and would, if achieved, become the comeback of all time

  3. kellyna says:

    Well I do think he will come back stronger and it’s because I think he still wants to play at that level. See his comments from after the match.

    “I accept the defeats and there is only one sure thing: I want to work harder even than before to come back stronger,” Nadal said following the match.

    “I am going to fight. I lost in 2009 and it was not the end. I lost in 2015 and it is not the end. I hope to be back here next year with another chance.”

    “This month was quite positive,” said Nadal. “Even though, I must say that today was not the greatest of all days. But as I said earlier on, whether you win or lose, life must go on. Next week we will have other competitions and such is life. In my case, life will continue whether I win or lose.”

    Nadal’s blueprint for recovery? Acceptance, analysis and more hard work.

    “The first set was key. But then when you lose in the way I lost today, I’d say c’est la vie. It’s the way it is. If you look at the score I’d say I didn’t win enough games. He played better than I did. You have to accept it and congratulate the other player. Then you have to analyse the reasons and then work really hard. This is what I think I’ll have to do now.”

    See I think he still has the competitive spirit and still loves playing the game and still believes he can improve. He will be back, I think Nadal thrives from being the underdog and people under-estimating him!

    • Thanks so much for this post and the quotes. I admit I’m feeling pretty down about this year but while Rafa has hope I have hope. Vamos, champ! (It does seem rather unfair that after he loses it’s always Rafa that picks us up with his great acktitude and good sense.)

  4. Tina says:

    To watch Rafa loose at RG today was strange for many reasons. Strange because we are not used to it, but some day Rafa had to surrender, and today- on his birthday – it happened.
    Rafa himself is, as always, very straight foreward in his analyses,( he already was before the match), so nothing strange in that.
    But it will be strange on Sunday not to watch Rafa in a final on RG, let alone not to listen to the Spanish anthem and watch Rafa carefully holding “his” La Coupe Des Mousquetaires.
    It Will be strange, nomatter how many times I try to convince myself that:”It´s just a tennis match, it´s not the end of the world”.
    It isn´t, of course, and nothing lasts forever, but hopefully next year, we will be able to watch him do just that again.
    Life goes on, and some other guy will be more than happy on Sunday to lift that trophy.
    I hope that Rafa will have a heck of a birthday, where he can celebrate with family and friends and for once not worry about tomorrows practise and tactics, although I´m sure he would have wanted to.
    Rest and come back strong as the true champion you are. VAMOS.

  5. Caprice says:

    Mental strength comes in 2 forms: short term (during a match), and long term (during a career).

    Short term mental strength is to a degree, tied up with physical form, like chicken and egg. Rafa’s short term mental strength was in a league of its own, until this season when his lack of form was too much for that mental strength to remain unscathed, hence the ups and downs.

    Long term mental strength is a different matter. Unlike his peers, Rafa’s long term mental strength is not of this planet. We saw that in Rafa’s 2011 and AO 2012, which was about the most soul destroying season tennis has seen, enough to send giants packing (think Bjorn Borg, who had a similar fate at the hands of McEnroe, but Rafa had it worse in 2011). And Rafa came back.

    Then there were the many major injuries. No other top player in memory has suffered as many major injuries as Rafa. All the evidence shows how hard emotionally and physically it is to come back, just look at how long it took Andy Murray, and Robin Soderling and Del Potro have yet to come back.

    Any other would have given up. Not because they are weak but because they are of this planet. But not Rafa. Rafa has come back after major injuries over and over.

    So for 2 reasons I believe that Rafa will be winning a few more slams before his career is over. Because of that long term mental strength that Rafa, and only Rafa possesses. And because I do not believe in the hype that you are past your prime at 29. Just look at Serena Williams. And I believe Federer at 33 is a better player now than he was in his heyday, DESPITE WHAT EVERYONE ELSE THINKS.

    Rafa is the greatest competitor the sport has ever seen, and we are very privileged to be enjoying tennis in his era.

    • haddie says:

      For the most part I would agree with what you say about Rafa, hard not to, but seriously I know we are all entitled to our opinions but to suggest Federer is playing better now than in his heyday quite frankly is ludicrous. That performance yesterday against Wawrinka?? really?? I don’t think even he would agree with you. That was not the performance of a man who has won 17 GS He is past his prime
      However, I do agree with the rest :-)

      • tom says:

        He’s certainly past his prime, but he had played 2 sets each of the previous 2 days do to holdover caused by rain, while Wawrinka had the previous day off.

        • haddie says:

          Which is only confirmation of what I have said.. he is not playing better than when he was in his heyday.. At his age now that is not possible

          • tom says:

            What I pointed out, wasn’t confirmation of everything you wrote.
            Federer in fact easily beat Wawrinka in straight sets in Madrid a few weeks ago when both of them had played the previous day.

            • haddie says:

              I was responding to the comment that “Federer is playing better than he did in his heyday”
              Not whether he has beaten Wawrinka.
              That statement is nonsense .. because no way is he playing better.
              Whether he wins or loses now that will never be the case.

    • JayDee50 says:

      You mention Serena Williams, but with all due respect to the ladies, women’s tennis is nowhere near as physically demanding as mens. No best of 5 in the ladies tournaments, plus Serena is far stronger physically than many of her opponents.

      • Caprice says:

        Good point. But has her game deteriorated with age, is the question.

        • JayDee50 says:

          No, I concede that it hasn’t, when you really think about it. Although, as I said, I do see her as being physically far stronger than the majority of her opponents, who simply cannot handle her shots. So with age, her strength has not diminished.

          • haddie says:

            I would suggest that if it has, it wouldn’t show. Serena has had really few players to threaten her in her career, apart from Sharapova, so its hard to say whether it has or no, there simply is no one good enough to challenge her.Thus her reign continues. I think, the sport in general, is hungry for some really talented youngsters who are able to take on the top players. both mens and womens. This total domination by a handful of players is getting a little tiresome.

  6. luckystar1 says:

    Rafa vs Novak, each time they play one another, they have to come up with new tactics or gameplan in order to beat the opponent.

    Like I mentioned before, Novak’s new tactic vs Rafa this FO was his dropshots. Rafa had to move up the net so often and unlike in the past, he couldnt win many points there. Clearly, the Novak team had work out this gameplan and had Novak covering the net so well even if Rafa got to those dropshots and returned them.

    Rafa lost out because of 1)his court position behind the baseline, 2) his FH wasnt that reliable, 3) his poor first serve %, 4) his poor 2nd serve points won. There were some games in the 3rd set where he couldnt even made a single first serve!

    Rafa also looked a bit slow and couldnt get to some balls on time. He also started the match slow as if didnt know what to expect from Novak. Novak OTOH knew what he needed to do and was fast off the block. Rafa always make this mistake when playing against Novak – he always starts slow and ends up having to give chase so often, like during Madrid and Rome 2011, MC2013. Times when Rafa was fast off the block, he usually won those matches – his FO matches prior to 2015, his Montreal 2013 match for examples.

    Rafa had his chances in the first set to force a tiebreak but he missed those chances and I feel losing the first set was crucial. It was clear that Rafa was no match for Novak especially after losing the first set. To me Novak came prepared but I cant say the same for Rafa.

    I also noticed that players now are playing the HC game on clay and with success. They just hit hard and serve big and half the job is done. The traditional clay court players who play from way back behind the baseline are losing ground to these hard hitting aggressive HC plays. Even Ferrer is playing a more aggressive game these days, playing from close to the baseline and running up to the net as often as possible. Perhaps Rafa should revamp his game and play like he did during NAHC season of 2013, even when playing on clay. It seems to me that its really a one style that fits all surfaces these days, and players like Fed and Novak just play their same style on any surface and still could win anywhere. Rafa OTOH has to adjust his game to suit the different surfaces.

    • Denizen says:

      luckystar1, it’s as if you read my mind but put things more clearly than I could. I think each paragraph of your post is spot-on and worthy of extended discussion.

      Frankly, the most fun I have had watching Rafa was the 2013 hard court season as his tactics were just a joy to watch. I haven’t enjoyed clay season for several years, because so many matches have been just a struggle.

      I miss his ability to construct and dominate points. Chasing down balls and hoping the other guy misses (obviously not Rafa’s chosen strategy, but one that has often been imposed on him by his opponents) is tiring and ultimately unsuccessful.

      As Rafa tries to find his game and confidence, all the other players are tinkering, improving.

      Will Rafa find a way to adapt to an ever-changing game, and if so, how?

      • snowyc says:

        Rafa has been adapting his game throughout his career (not just for different surfaces but his overall game). Today, he is trying to be more aggressive even while recovering from all the surgeries/injuries/physical issues that afflicted him last year. Don’t forget he also had to lose muscle mass (and some power) to alleviate the burden on those knees. No one stays at the top forever. The most important thing is that he will try his hardest or “die trying.” And that is all I need to know.

        • luckystar1 says:

          Everyone is adapting or improving his game, not only Rafa but Rafa has to adapt to different surfaces more so than say Fed or Novak.

          Rafa was playing his clay court game even on the HCs and grass in the past but had since made improvement to his game and played differently on different surfaces.

          I dont think i see an aggressive Rafa this season so far, hes still playing a defensive game on clay, having to do so much running. Hes giving up too much court space to Novak, who comes with a good game plan, that of moving up to the net and playing Rafa from there so that he can cut down on long rallies, preventing Rafa from drawing him into long draining rally exchanges.

          Rafa has to work smart in addition to working hard. Im sure he wants to win and enjoys the fruits of his labor, so working hard is a means to an end and not an end in itself.

      • luckystar1 says:

        I do feel Rafa needs to work on his serves, with a good serve and confidence in it will help Rafa to win cheap points; who knows, may even cut down the time between points and so, fewer TV warnings at BPs!

        He can look at his 2013 HC season for inspirations, at least he was aggressive out there, took the initiative to be aggressive, esp vs Novak, and not starting slow and waiting to counter Novak’s aggression.

        On hindsight, the loss at this FO may serve as a positive for him, to really rethink how he should play on clay going forward.

        Seriously, we all can see that Rafa is losing some speed and power out there. We know his game on clay is amazing but i feel it can no longer be sustainable year after year when Rafa is getting older and older. In fact it started in 2013 when I could see Rafa having difficulties even on clay, vs very aggressive players who took it to him, players like Klizan, Brands, Gulbis, even Ferrer played an aggressive game on clay vs Rafa, not to mention Novak at MC. Even Foggy made Rafa nervous at the FO that year, though Rafa still won in the end playing a messy match. Rafa’s 2014 clay season was really the start of his decline on clay, though he played an aggressive game during his SF vs Murray and final vs Novak. Maybe the back issue was the cause of his decline, who knows.

        One thing positive was that Rafa could play aggressive tennis on clay to beat his top level opponents, the way he did vs Murray and Novak last year. So imo he should play that way on clay, starts aggressively on the get go, not starting slow and waiting to counter his opponents aggressions.

        PS. Rafa mentioned that the youngsters these days just want to serve big and hit hard to get cheap points, if thats the trend, then all the more Rafa needs to take things into his own hands and not let his opponents dictate.

  7. jodiecate says:

    I was so happy when Rafa got it back from 0-4 to 4-4 i thought Rafa really deserved that set.
    Ah well. Hope he has a much more care-free rest of the year.

    Novak deserved the win. He played much better than Rafa the whole time. He deserves his career slam as well. I disagree with folk who are wheeling out the coffin for Rafa’s tennis career already. Sometimes it just takes longer to recover fully. He hasn’t been playing anywhere near his top level yet. He is determined, so it’s gonna happen. End of story.

    • CB says:

      Novak does deserve the career slam if he wins. And it will just prove what an amazing era we are in — if he wins, then three active players will have all 4 slams under their belt. Unheard of and may not happen again for a long time.

      As to all the prognostications on Rafa, we cannot know. Only his team has an idea of his mental and physical state at this point. My preference is to be optimistic and simply enjoy the privilege of watching him play every chance I get.