So long, Cincy

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

With a trademark forehand passing shot, Rafa broke in the 4th game to go up 3-1. Feli had multiple break points in the next game. On the last one, Rafa got a time violation warning and Feli hit a fantastic stab volley to break and put the match back on serve. Rafa broke again in the 8th game to go up 5-3, but he double faulted while break point down and trying to serve for the set. They were back on serve 4-5. In the next game, a beautiful (if a bit misshit lob) gave Rafa triple break point. He wasted one an an unforced error. On the second one, deep angled hitting from Feli drew an error. A huge serve saved the third. Both men went on to hold and Feli was serving to force a tiebreak when he double faulted to triple break point. It took Rafa a few tries, but he broke to take the set 7-5.

Both men held to start set two, but a fabulous return from Feli and an errant forehand from Rafa saw Feli going up a break. That one break was all he needed to take the set 6-4.

Set three was a demonstration of how to hold serves as both men held with ease until it was tiebreak time. Rafa looked like he’d played a pretty good volley on the first point of the tiebreak, but Feli scooped it up and returned it for a winner. But that lead didn’t last long as Rafa hit a smoking passing shot to put things back on serve 1-1. Feli got another minibreak to go up 3-1. A beautiful volley behind Rafa and an ace put Feli up 5-2. He went up another minibreak and then took the tiebreaker and the match. He defeats Rafa 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (3).

I really thought Rafa started out well tonight. Somewhere along the line, he lost the read on Feli’s serve and started guessing…and he wasn’t guessing well. And Feli was serving very well. Also, even in good years, Rafa often struggles in Cincy. So…it is was it is. *sigh* Onward.

Nadal Lopez
Statistics on Serve
Aces 5 14
Double Faults 4 4
1st Serve % 68% 54%
1st Serve Points Won 49/65 (75%) 39/53 (74%)
2nd Serve Points Won 17/31 (55%) 28/46 (61%)
Break Points Saved 3/6 (50%) 8/11 (73%)
Service Games Played 17 17
Statistics on Return
1st Return Points Won 14/53 (26%) 16/65 (25%)
Second Return Points Won 18/46 (39%) 14/31 (45%)
Break Points Won 3/11 (27%) 3/6 (50%)
Return Games Played 17 17
Statistics on Points
Total Service Points Won 66/96 (69%) 67/99 (68%)
Total Return Points Won 32/99 (32%) 30/96 (31%)
Total Points Won 98/195 (50%) 97/195 (50%)

43 Responses

  1. Roxitova says:

    Argg this one was super frustrating. Rafa should’ve had it sown up in the 2nd set. The DF on BP was a disaster, and I somehow knew at that point he would lose.
    His serve returns were really poor. Feli started playing extremely well in the 3rd set, but there never should have been a 3rd set.
    Another example of Rafa not being clutch, victim of his own nerves.
    Argh. Argh. Argh.
    You see this again and again and again you just want them to bring in someone else to help.
    It is getting very hard to watch.

    • john f says:

      i’m hoping in the exhibition match with McEnroe johnny mac will offer to work with him! but i agree, it is getting hard to watch.I can only imagine the discouragement that rafa feels being second tier so often…

  2. mallorcanchamp says:

    High quality serving from both players.

    Feli started very slow on his serve, so much that I thought he was going to have an off night, he had lots of 0-40 but still saved them because this surface suits his game very well. He changed drastically from the start of the second set and upped his 1st serve % a lot, so much that Rafa couldn’t smell any possibility of breaking his serve anymore (just 1 chance of bp in the last two sets)

    By the end of the match, Feli was serving so clutch, he was even smiling before points. He pretty much knew it was in his hands and he finished it like a veteran.

    Rafa was surprisingly good on serve on the 3rd set. He did fantastic to stay in the match against a big server on a fast surface who can return decently. FH was aggressive at many games, BH was not in action because this is a fast surface and requires heavy hitting to dominate points so he positioned himself on the FH side (not as in Montreal) Return was as good as Feli let it be.

    I still believe some changes need to be made after US Open as I said in the wimbledon loss entry, but I like seeing Rafa improve his game and confidence, he’s playing really well for what this season’s average has been. He’s just being beaten by better players (Kei) or inspired (like Feli’s today)

    I know right now the trend is spreading negativity but I say again I’m liking what I’m seeing and I just hope Rafa’s not being discouraged by the pure feel of losing, and centers himself in his improvements, because he’s giving the good steps.

    Just look back at the start of the season how pedestrian he was looking (AO QF against Berdych)

    It’s a process and if important wins don’t come this year, they will come on 2016.

    • Caprice says:

      Agree absolutely, and I am sure that is what Rafa is doing too… just focus on the improvements and don’t get distracted by the negativity.

    • jodiecate says:

      I completely agree as well. The improvements are obvious and continuing. Small steps are needed before big ones, it’s all progress. Fantastic to see that health is not an issue right now. Improving his tennis level of play without putting his health at risk is key at the moment. Fingers crossed he can keep that up!

  3. SammyT says:

    And, of course, Lopez will be meekly defeated in the next round… Rafa’s new, and unfortunate, status as the most beatable player of the “Big 4” seems to push players to play the match of their lives against him so that they can score that resume-enhancing win against a tennis legend like him. They start the match believing they can win, and they play out of their shoes till they, frequently, do. At least this time he lost to a Spanish buddy!

    Credit to Lopez, though; he played brilliantly, plus he did beat Rafa in Madrid when it was on hardcourts (I believe) several years ago, i.e. when Rafa was in his prime, so he certainly has the game to trouble Rafa despite the lopsided h2h.

    On to the USO, then!

  4. kellyna says:

    I do think Rafa played better tonight than I’ve seen him play in awhile. He had some beautiful shots and I thought showed greater confidence (playing angles, painting the lines etc.) Still seems to have nerves or lack of confidence in the break points (which used to be one of his strengths). But would agree that he does look better than he did earlier in the season, so he’s definitely improving. Let’s hope he can have a good run at the USO!

  5. CB says:

    Both Murray and Djokovic struggled mightily today but eventually won; Rafa just didn’t have the confidence yet to pull out this win. Rafa did not play poorly — although the break of serve while serving for the first set is distressing. The commentators talk about it as lack of confidence; but he played a number of other clutch points very well. So it is perplexing. But he is certainly improving. I think it would have been better for Rafa to play in the first round of these two tournaments to get more time on court. A “bye” at this point perhaps did not do him a favor. Anyway, Feli played extremely well and so did Rafa but just couldn’t quite up his game in the tie-break. I think he will take heart that he played better this week than last.

    • jodiecate says:

      i agree about the first round byes, i often think they’re not beneficial to Rafa.

    • Aero says:

      I think he probably would have lost to Lopez in the first round regardless. Its not court time or play time, it’s simply Rafa’s level now, got to expect this kind of result much more going forward, he’s not playing that much better than he was eight months ago. I honestly think he’s done competing at the level he used to be at and won’t improve that significantly anymore.

      • CB says:

        Yes, that is always a danger; even a first-round match-up can be tricky. But, hopefully, a first round match would be against someone less threatening and get Rafa more match play. Even when Rafa is playing his best he often starts tournaments not playing at his top level and gets better with every match. I assume that when his confidence is low, this trait might be magnified. Let’s hope this theory helps in the U.S. Open!

  6. Caprice says:

    I watched the first set until Rafa failed to serve out the set, and then had to leave for work. It is undeniable that Rafa has developed a noticeable pattern of clearly visible nerves when serving out a set, so at that point I knew the match was all open, 50-50 either way.

    Still, I like the changes that I saw i.e. the faster first serve, the much more aggressive return of serve inside the baseline. He is once again hitting his famous inside out forehands, albeit with less potency. He is once again controlling rallies with his forehand, hitting deep and angled shots, albeit with less pace.

    At this point in time, Rafa’s biggest problem is mental, and it won’t go away until his game improves, and it will continue to improve with more match experience. The only thing standing in his way to more grand slam trophies is remaining injury free until he returns to top form.

    Will watch the entire match later.

  7. Cowboyal says:

    There is no point in repeating previous comments I posted after the Nishikori (long comment) and Chardy (short comment) matches.

    All I can say is when I was watching last night, I kept saying to the tv ‘Rafa, what is wrong with you??!!!’……..

  8. emir says:

    Rafa can continue to play tennis as long as he enjoys it and thats what he should if he really enjoys the tour. On the other hand his days as player whose one of the big favorites for majors and big titles are over. As I wrote couple of months ago here when something is over sometimes it is indeed over. Difficult to play the game of Pollyanna any more.

  9. Roxitova says:

    Miri: A question for you if you’re reading.
    In any earlier thread you responded to me that Toni had offered Rafa the option of bringing in a coaching consultant and Rafa refused. I’m not doubting you at all, but just curious where you heard this, because I haven’t seen reference to it anywhere else. I consider highly significant info.

    Hmmm, many here took alot of positives from the Lopez loss–which was nice to see given the excessive doomsaying that I sometimes see–but for me it remained a step backwards, not forwards.
    Backwards because he had the match on his racquet and failed to close due to nerves. Lopez was playing very badly in the 2nd set, for the most part, yet won it. Rafa played well in the 3rd, but loss in the TB mainly die to the superiority of Lopez’s serving.

    I think we all forget how often Rafa–even at the height of his powers–was stealing matches. By this I mean winning when being outplayed, or being played evenly. The difference were the clutch points, and Rafa is totally off on this still.
    It is an overwhelming advantage and he’s lost it. It isn’t physical, it’s mental.
    A stat came up on the ATP coverage I was watching that for me said it–it showed his 1rst serve percentage overall, and then on BPs–huge difference. I was surprsied to see he only had 4 DFs–probaboly too many anyway–but it felt like way more because they came at crucial times.

    I’m not a doomsayer and see the very real possibility of Rafa getting back to #2 or even higher. But if he keeps doing the same things, mentally, it isn’t going to happen. He has made someadjustments in his game–the more aggressive position, great! but it’s also causing him problems–but I feel only another, new voice in his ear can affect his mental game.

    Someone here once said his aversion to change might get in his way. For me, it’s being illustrated.

    • miri says:

      It was in an interview with Toni from quite a while ago. If I have time later, I’ll look for it.

    • Fay says:

      I think we all forget how often Rafa–even at the height of his powers–was stealing matches. By this I mean winning when being outplayed, or being played evenly. The difference were the clutch points, and Rafa is totally off on this still.

      I couldn’t agree more

  10. Aero says:

    Emir, that’s all that really matters him playing as long as he enjoys it. We still shouldn’t be expecting any more than what he has already accomplished. Those who think he is still on the road to recovery are dreaming of him returning to the top, I honestly think those days are over. Each tourney now will be a mixed bag, some he’ll go deep others a short run!

  11. Francine says:

    Indeed Aero, the only thing that matters is his love of the game.
    I enjoyed watching him last night – without expectations. The comments here in Montréal were that he was playing well – hard court tennis style. He missed a few shots that puzzled the commentators, but still a very good match.

  12. Caprice says:

    I am glad I only watched part of the first set live because later, after knowing the outcome, and watching the full replay, I was able to calmly and objectively assess Rafa’s current form, and I can say with all honesty that I like what I see.

    In essence, what I saw was consistent application of controlled aggression and good match instsincts. Rafa played a good match, making good decisions on when to move forward, when to run around his backhand, good net touch and movement. His shots are now generally deep and his inside out and inside in forehand is consistently reliable. He was also able to hit a lot of down the line shots and changing directions at will. The vintage Rafa passing shots are there. What he is still lacking is pace, but that will come later, you need to walk well before you run.

    So, having watched all his matches this year, Rafa is showing continuing improvement in his level. His ground game is good, but he still needs work on his second serve and his return of serve. But all is good, because I see Rafa’s camp has been definitely been working on this, the speed of serve has increased and he is returning serve much earlier. So a few double faults are expected while it is still a work in progress.

    Funny how much more upbeat I feel watching a replay as opposed to watching it live. When you are so emotionally invested in a player, watching it live makes it difficult for one to make objective, rational judgement. Plus you get to fast forward all the in-between times :)

    So I am confident that Rafa has a good year next year waiting for him. As always, barring injuries!

    I also do not believe in all the nonsense about Rafa being an old 29 year old and will have short career because of the way he plays. He has many good years left. I said all this before, citing examples of Serena Williams and Federer. And I repeat again what I said before, that Federer today is a better player than when he dominated 2005 – 2007. He has a HUGELY improved backhand, his net play and his serve is better than in his peak years, and his forehand is as good as before. Ditto for Serena Williams, 34 this year like Federer, she is better than she has ever been.

    • harry houdini says:

      I see a definite intent by Rafa to play more aggressive on the backhand and on the ROS. Rafa has had moments in his career where the bh has been a big weapon (2008 grass, 2009 AO, always very good on clay) and he has improved it (CC and DTL) to counter the rise of the djoker. He’s also going for bigger serves in this part of the season as you note, but his serve is still below 2010 and even 2013 standards.

      I don’t agree federer is better today, fed’s fh used to be tops before rafa and co-favorite once rafa entered prime. It was a point ender, unreadable, fast and always curving away from the opponent. Now fed’s fh is just a mid-paced shot that he uses to construct points. Nadal’s fh is also entering this territory and that’s probably just old age.

  13. Roxitova says:

    YOur points about replay are very true. We don’t see as clearly in the moment.

    Re Federer, I agree he’s better, but he was willing to make a lot of changes. He knew he had to get better to stay at the top, and it was Rafa and then Djok that made it necessary to get better.
    Now Rafa is in that position. The question is: will he make the necessary changes?
    I see some changes and improvement in his game, but not the one really big change that Fed, Murray, Cilic, Wawrinka etc. etc. all made–the coach.

  14. harry houdini says:

    only watched the highlights. Disappointed he couldn’t play federer, rafa keeps missing his chance this year to play fed.

  15. Caprice says:

    I forgot to add that one advantage of watching replay versus watching live is that I could rewind and assess important points, and I came away feeling positive because Rafa lost important points without making errors of judgement. All through the match he generally showed good match instincts and good shot selection decisions. Such match savviness can only come from match play. So I think the more matches under the belt the more seasoned he gets.

    Rafa lost to Feli mainly due to a weak second serve and a weak return of serve. Rafa missed so many opportunities on Feli’s second serves, sigh. But take away the first 2 shots of each point and Rafa’s ground game is clearly superior.

  16. Jonnyp says:

    THE NEW NORMAL- 12 years of extraordinarily high play that I will always look back upon and cherish. There are many reasons I respect Rafa but the main reason that I am in awe of him is his ability to give it all for the sake of competition. Those are words are weak in relation to how much he has poured into his career. He has never been the most skilled on tour- top 10 talent surely- but not all time great talent- but he has all time great heart. And that heart and will has carried over and straight through opponents for a decade plus. The body has slowed. It is natural and unstoppable, just as Rafa had been unstoppable.
    I believe this level of tennis is the new normal for our champ. I think he can and will get hot and rise up and win another major sheerly due to his will but that will be the anomaly. QF, 4th, and earlier exits will continue most tournaments. And I’m good with that- to still have the chance to urge him on- to pay tribute to a legendary career while we still have the chance is what we should all savor. One day soon there will be no more Spanish Bull on the tour and tennis and sport will be that much the lesser for it. But for now we still have him. Exhort him, rage for him as we have harder than ever before. A man who gives everything has nothing left and he gave it all. Almost every one of us will pale in compassion in any endeavor in our lives – Vamos GOAT- today and forever our Champ.

    • CB says:

      Don’t sell Rafa short. Yes, his fighting spirit is unbelievable. But no player wins 14 slams and countless other tournaments without being among the most talented in history. Let’s hope that our beloved Spanish Bull continues to enjoy playing for a long time because you are right — tennis won’t be the same without him.

    • Fay says:

      Loved this Jonnyp., hope he can win another major… sigh

  17. sia says:

    I’m curious what people think a “new, different” coach can bring to Rafa’s game?
    Honestly, I think Rafa is by far the best tactician playing tennis in this generation.
    He knows.

    ps.Shhhh…. but I’m sort of happy he didn’t have to play Rogie (and his Hello Kitty top), in Cincy . ;)

    • CC says:

      Oh, I like Roger’s pink outfit. Far nicer than Rafa’s latest boring in blue attire.
      I have no idea what a new coach could bring to Rafa’s game, but I do think that Rafa should consider bringing a fan, or two, or three into his team for some extra special treatment. ;)

      • sia says:

        Rafa can wear his TH’s and we could wear Hello Kitty outfits ;) I’m sure we could coach him in a few different ways that have nothing to do with tennis …

    • Aero says:

      Sia, the coach would have to be in the same league as the coaches, Fed, Djoker and Murray have (or had), ex-champs. They have made significant improvements in these guys games (who would have thought that Fed arguably the GOAT could improve his game?). And yet Edberg did. With Fed for example he has improved Feds net game because it was also a strength of his. Right now nothing is working for Rafa, he says its not confidence anymore nor physical limitations so it must be his game! He needs fresh eyes, someone who can replay matches he has lost and provide some constructive criticism, perhaps a different approach that may have won the point. Rafa’s patterns of play are very predictable, others know his game, so I think he needs to evolve as the other top three have done so! Just small tweaks in his game, he has done it before successfully!

      • sia says:

        Hi Aero, its true that these former champs have brought improvements. Boris has certainly helped Nole to solidify that serve of his, for example.
        It’s also true that Rafa’s patterns of play are predictable, they always have been … and are even as he continues to evolve his game … but that doesn’t mean he’s always been beatable. Just the opposite ;)
        I think he IS using this year “to make small tweaks” in his game. It’s just taking a bit of time … he does seem to be improving, don’t you think?
        The thing is, who could you suggest?
        Who could advise Rafa at being mentally tough or better at point construction?

        • CC says:

          Mats!!! They would look so cute together, no? ;)

        • Aero says:

          First, I honestly think he needs a sports psychologist Sia, while he has great mental strength he lacks self belief in how good he really can be, his humility is almost a crutch. As regards an additional couch I don’t know, I think there are a few who really like him as one of the greatest, Agassi, McEnroe, or even Wilander as mentioned. McEnroe probably wouldn’t be the best due to his temperament/personality. Agassi might work though. I just think he needs a fresh perspective on his game. When he came back last time he was super aggressive and kept points short, it took everyone by surprise. That’s just my opinion though, but many of the experts are also saying the same thing. It can’t hurt his game so nothing ventured nothing gained!

  18. CB says:

    Hello kitty. :) I think Roger’s shirt would be better if they could have just decided on one color. But I LOVE Rafa’s kit!

  19. crossy says:

    Can anyone tell me why Rafas 90 points from last week have not been added to his ranking points this week?

    • Heath says:

      They have been added.

      • Ying says:

        It looks like the 90 points have been added to “Race to London”, but not to the Singles Ranking. he had 3,680 last week, still has the same for this week. Also, why didn’t Ferrer lose any points, did he not play at Cincinnati last year?

        • miri says:

          Cincy points had already dropped last week due to the alignment of tournaments this year – things are a week off. Per the rules:

          The year-end Emirates ATP Rankings is based on calculating, for each player, his total points from the four (4) Grand Slams, the eight (8) mandatory ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments and the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals of the ranking period, and his best six (6) results from all ATP World Tour 500, ATP World Tour 250, ATP Challenger Tour and Futures tournaments.

          And:

          In weeks where there are not four (4) Grand Slams and eight (8) ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments in the ranking period, the number of a player’s best results from all eligible tournaments in the ranking period will be adjusted accordingly.

          So, I think Rafa’s 90 points from Beijing were countable last week in order to get the right number of tournaments since Cincy wasn’t in the mix. This week, they are not countable since there are now the correct number of tournaments available from which to get points. Thus, the net change is 0.

          At least, this is how I’m reading the rules – I’m by no means an expert.