USO: Zone > heart

Elsa/Getty Images

Elsa/Getty Images

In the last match in Ashe stadium, Rafa played #23 Fabio Fognini tonight. We all know the recent history, so no need to re-hash (after all, ESPN kept showing their dust-up from Hamburg over and over). Rafa came out like he was thinking of that dust-up and had a statement to make. There were glimpses of the Rafa of old in the first 2 set – and they lasted longer then they have been lately. In the third set, he got tentative and Fognini put the pedal to the metal and didn’t look back. He was hitting winners right and left and bossing Rafa all over the court. Rafa fought his heart out. Fabio was zoning. In the end, the zone beat the heart. He defeats Rafa: 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.

Nadal Fognini
Statistics on Serve
Aces 5 2
Double Faults 2 7
1st Serve % 67% 62%
1st Serve Points Won 63/93 (68%) 35/103 (34%)
2nd Serve Points Won 17/46 (37%) 30/64 (47%)
Break Points Saved 7/16 (44%) 11/19 (58%)
Service Games Played 24 24
Serve Speeds
Fastest serve 125 MPH 121 MPH
Average 1st serve speed 110 MPH 105 MPH
Average 2nd serve speed 88 MPH 89 MPH
Statistics on Return
1st Return Points Won 38/103 (37%) 30/93 (32%)
Second Return Points Won 34/64 (53%) 29/46 (63%)
Break Points Won 8/19 (42%) 9/16 (56%)
Return Games Played 24 24
Statistics on Points
Total Service Points Won 80/139 (58%) 95/167 (57%)
Total Return Points Won 72/167 (43%) 59/139 (42%)
Total Points Won 152/306 (50%) 154/306 (50%)
Other Stats
Winners 30 70
Unforced errors 18 57
Net Approaches 19/22 (86%) 39/54 (72%)

Match notes:
Fognini won the toss and elected to receive. Rafa held and then broke Fognini – with an assist from Fabio. In the next serve game and down break point, Rafa stormed forward and Fognini’s passing shot attempt clipped the net – Rafa was broken and they were back on serve: 2-1. We weren’t done with the breaks as Rafa broke with a beauty of a lob winner in the next game: 3-1. Rafa had break/set point in the 8th game, but Fognini held to force Rafa to serve for the set. Which he did. At love. Bless him.

Both men exchanged routine holds until the 7th game of the 2nd set. Rafa hit some massive forehands to earn break point, but his return let him down. On another break point, he worked a point well, but the long rally ended when he sent a backhand into the net. Fognini held for 4-3. Both men held until Rafa was serving for the set at 5-4. He went up 40-0, but then hit some awful forehands. I admit, I got nervous. At deuce, they played a crazy point that Rafa won to give him set point. He won that point and the set: 6-4.

Rafa broke in the 3rd game of the 3rd set and then consolidated with ease for a 3-1 lead. In the 6th game, Rafa went down triple break point (the bad forehand made an appearance) and Fognini ripped a backhand down the line winner to break Rafa and put the set back on serve: 3-3. At 4-5 and serving to stay in the set, Rafa went from 30-0 to break/set point down thanks to aggressive and accurate hitting from Fognini. Rafa saved the first break point, but on the second one, he hit a forehand into the doubles alley and was broken. Third set to Fognini: 6-4.

The first game of the 4th set was a nervy affair with both guys committing errors. Fognini commited the last error and was broken. In the third game, Fognini played smart – moving Rafa or picking on his backhand repeatedly and then finally hitting into the open court. He broke to level the set at 2-2. In the 7th game, Rafa went down triple break point. He played tentatively and Fognini stepped up his aggression. He was moving Rafa at will. Fognini broke and then served out the set: 6-3.

Both men held easily to start the 5th. Then Fognini started hitting the every loving crap out of the ball – drawing errors from Rafa and breaking him for a 2-1 lead. Rafa played the next game beautifuly. I mean, seriously stepped up his game. He broke to level the set. But all those fist pumps and roar died in the next game. Rafa went down triple break point. He saived 2, but, his first serve gone, was broken on the last one. Fognini broke himself (with an assist from Rafa) in the next game to put the set back on serve 3-3. And…Rafa was broken in the next game. I can’t really describe the end of this match. It was insane. It…didn’t end well for Rafa. I think this one really hurt.

Match tweets:

46 Responses

  1. john f says:

    I guess i just feel sad for Rafa. Lots more i’d like to say about the match, but not much point really. Maybe borg had the right idea –
    john f

    • Aero says:

      Honestly I think you are right concerning your Borg comment, he should perhaps consider hanging up the racquet at the end of the FO next year when he turns 30. He probably will be in the top 20 then as I expect his downhill slide to continue once we get into 2016. Fog has a terrible winning record against top 10 players, you can count them on one hand, third time this year against Rafa says a lot! Rafa these days looks like he’s ranked 50 in world not 8, everyone has a mental strangle hold on him, he has a hard time beating players regardless of their ranking!

  2. RAFAFAN1 says:

    I’m feeling sick of disappointment now. How hard will media on poor Rafa now. Can only try to think how gutted he’s feeling just now. But ya life goes on i reckon. Sigh

    • Aero says:

      Time to cheer on Fed again!

      • cythere72 says:

        Ugh, no.

      • CB says:

        Wow, Aero, perhaps you think you are on a Fed fan site? Isn’t it boring being a Fed fan — where’s the drama? :) (And don’t forget, Roger has been written off before as well.)

        As the saying goes, it is easy to kick a man when he is down. What makes a true fan is someone who is willing to stick by their player in the rough times. Rafa is easy to continue to support, even when things aren’t going the best, because he ALWAYS gives HIS best. I have no crystal ball and I don’t know what the future holds for Rafa — but I will continue to cheer on Rafa in the good times and ESPECIALLY in the rough times.

        • Aero says:

          CB, it has more to do with their great rivalry and honestly I have to hand it to Fed for continuing to be so consistent and still an awesome player at 34. I was a Fed fan before Rafa appeared on the circuit. He’s a pleasure to watch play, how graceful he is on court. Without Rafa around these days my hat is off to the other part of that rivalry. There are a host of great players out there so it comes down to personal preference! Personally I can’t stand Djokovic, Murray though is okay and I do like Stan. Many wrote Fed off a few years ago, and he proved them all wrong. I wish I could say the same for Rafa but I don’t see a return to greatness happening.

          • CB says:

            Just seems odd to me that on a Rafa fan site, right after a devastating loss, you express your enthusiasm for someone else. No doubt — Roger is an amazing player. My best friend loves him, my dad loved him and while I can appreciate his talent, I just don’t feel a connection. I haven’t been a fan of Djokovic either — just don’t like his attitude on court sometimes. But after watching him live for the first time a couple of years ago, there is definitely an electricity there. Much like the electricity one feels when Rafa is playing. You are certainly entitled to your opinion that Rafa can’t return to “greatness” — I will continue to be optimistic.

            • Aero says:

              I’m glad that balance still exists, those who are still optimistic, I’d prefer to have you correct than me! While I find the tennis world boring now with Rafa gone early in tournaments, I need to cheer for someone else! Fed is my default but I’d be happy to also see Stan win another GS or two.

  3. Caprice says:

    Up 2 sets and a break and lost. First time ever this has happened to Rafa.

    2 things at top of my head.

    1. I am afraid for Rafa, how much can he bend before his spirit breaks?

    2. It comes down to his serve and return of serve, the first 2 shots that are vital before you can seize the initiative. Is it too late in his career to improve these 2 shots?

    • Aero says:

      A few things popped into my head too towards the end of the match. I began to realize that in tennis years he is now a 29 year old in a 40 year old body. Fog was still ripping forehand winners in the 5th set but Rafa’s forehands were only floating over the net, lacking power, intensity and direction. I think all the years of abuse on his body which initially put him on the top very early in his career has finally caught up with him. He is only injury free these days because he never goes deep into a tournament anymore, so his body has time to recover in between, however being healthy is only one part of a package which doesn’t win matches. His body can’t compete anymore, his fire has gone out! Time to face reality fans!

      • cythere72 says:

        Face reality? I think there have been other players counted out before and are still playing. Rafa can still come back if he so chooses.

        • Aero says:

          So what you are saying is he chose not to come back here? Dream on, you are delusional if you are still expecting to see the Rafa of a few years back when he regained the #1 ranking!

    • pasabolas says:

      I was sad to see Rafa lose this way, another match that he should have won. But lately he falters again and again. Instead of going for the kill, with momentum on his side, he lets the opponent into the match, gets tentaive, playing not to lose instead of to win.
      Fognini was sublime, and I marvel how a little guy can generate so much power from his shots. He’s a risk -taker and played aggressively to win.70 winners vs Nadal’s 30.When he can hit more winners than losers, Fognini can be dangerous.
      I applaud Rafa’s attempts to stand closer to return serve, especially when facing an opponent with a weak serve. I have harshly criticized Rafa in the past for standing so far behind for both first and second serves, and I wish he could learnn from other top players, including women like Serena and Sharapova, who step inside and try to take control of the point on second serves.But Rafa tried and missed too many returns into the net, especially on the backhand side, even on second serves. Hard to change overnight when you’re not used to returning aggressively. Don’t remember too many, if any, outright winners. As to his serve, Rafa needs to keep tweaking it
      and improve his technique. He’s not able to hit all 4 corners at will, like a Federer. Can anybody recall a top 5 player losing his serve that many times?. Is it just nerves that makes you play it safe? I can comfort myself by looking back to previous years when he was able to hold more easily, even when he had to play long games. Rafa will nver be like Fed Express. But success in previous years were due to that powerfull 1-2 punch he used to have while serving, when his forehand was fearhand, and had a venomous power and spin. These days, his timing and power are well off his best days, to the point that he’s hitting the FH while falling backwards too many times. A no-no in any tennis book
      I agree that he neeeds to look at retirement soon, have a Borg exit, to preserve some of the tennis records he still holds and the mystique that remains of his accoplishments.
      The way Rafa is playing, he could be beaten by anybody in the top 100. Don’t want to see Rafa humilliated even more by being bounced in a first round of a clay event.

  4. DJ24-7 says:

    The look on Rafa’s face after the match, as he walked down the hallway told the tale. He looked like the most broken person in the world. You really have to feel for him. 2015 has been a heartbreaking season for Rafa, especially at the slams. His heart is still there, without question. He’s still got the fight for sure. But it’s his game, his mentality, the confidence he once had, that is shattered. Where does Rafa go from here? How much longer can he continue to play, if circumstances do not change? The way he lost this match, will surely take its toll. I wonder if maybe given what he’s gone through, it might be best to just call it a season and perhaps come back next year.

  5. ymk_india says:

    Being a HUGE Rafa fan, I am deeply saddenned (disappointed would be a understatement) by Rafa’s loss.

    Lets face the facts. Fognini was literally begging Rafa to take the match. I am not technically good at tennis but my common sense tells me that you have to hit the ball where your opponent isnt there (or cant reach) on the court. Rafa was always hitting the balls to Fognini and Fognini was literally standing in the same position and hitting the shots. If Fognini was playing great, I would have accepted the loss but he was terrible.(Lots of unforced errors, Lots of break points to Rafa).

    In general, if you follow Rafa’s interviews, he is reluctant to get a new coach ( nobody is saying sack Toni because that would be ridiculous. Just get a additional coach who won multiple slams for better tactical advice. ), he doesn’t want to consult a sports psychologist to calm his nerves etc. On top of that, he is playing more tournaments and practicing more and more which is not good for his injury prone body .

    The way he usually dealt with problems worked for him so far but it isnt working now.
    Continuing the current process would only make matters worse as is evident.
    He needs CHANGE. Not too much but some CHANGE.

    So, can somebody who is close to Rafa or who can reach Rafa make him realize that its okay to take help. and its NECESSARY.

    And signing those Autographs after the loss was a class act. and that’s the reason why I always root for him. Rafa is a CHAMPION no matter what his results are.

  6. Heath says:

    I woke early enough to witness that fifth set and rather wish I hadn’t. On the one hand, I really feel for Rafa as he must be feeling rotten and he’ll know that the speculation about his future will now only grow and grow. But on the other hand, I’m also a little frustrated because from where I’m sitting, he remains in stubborn denial (at least publicly) as to how he can get out of the large and unsuccessful hole he’s dug for himself these last months. Relentless practice and trying his best to improve isn’t enough.

  7. sia says:

    I had to go to sleep before the last set to be up early for a funeral this am (not a very close relative); but I stayed till the end of the fourth and I knew it was over then. I think Rafa did too.
    I know he kept fighting but he hit a wall in that third set (he actually said something to his team) and that was it. It may have been fatigue or his shoulder but he just couldn’t get the Rafa back of the first two sets.
    He played so well at the start of the match that I can’t come away from this match without positives.
    Honestly “Heart” is the very best title, Miri, his and ours … they all seem very wrapped together. Love him.

    • kemannin says:

      *Honestly “Heart” is the very best title, Miri, his and ours … they all seem very wrapped together. Love him.* Beautifully said, Sia. Thank you for this. <3

  8. emir says:

    To be honest for the first time in my life as a fan ı closed the TV and gone to the bed after the 4 set ( it was late ). I dont regret my decision now. There is no need for endless talk or discussions. He did have great career but it is finished as far being a top player concern. You can see it his body language even his eyes. He is in a self destruct mode right now which is even more sad of a natural slump.

    • Aero says:

      Emir agreed, as soon as the 4th set had finished I knew Fognini would win the fifth. Rafa looked completely lost and without answers, very much in defensive mode all the time with no offensive weapons, while Fog was riding high, you could see it in his shot making. Funny thing is I bet Fog is taken out in straight sets in the next round if not in the QFs, which tells us where Rafa’s game really is. Though I now expect it in his matches nowadays, its still hard to watch Rafa these days, he looks completely out of sorts. This won’t help his confidence if he thought he was almost back to the level he wanted to be! Its like watching the felling of a champion warrior in a 2 hour movie, his decline has been that rapid.

  9. JayDee50 says:

    So close, a difference of just two points, what a battle.

  10. dhartk says:

    Come on, people. I know everyone’s bitterly disappointed. But to join the media clamor espousing Rafa’s demise and and end to him being a top player?
    I had a feeling Rafa’s take on the situation would be different. And not because he’s in denial. He knows what he has to do; he didn’t forget how to play. He brought up the serve speed. Maintaining that level of serve for 5 sets is something he hasn’t done this year.
    Even in a loss like this, he can take from it and keep moving forward. Are his fans so disappointed they will desert him now?

    • cythere72 says:

      Nope will never desert him. I am a fan through and through. I am upset by his loss but look forward to his coming back. It will happen.

  11. kellyna says:

    I have to confess I stayed up to watch the end of the match and was angry by the end of it (I know – talk about taking things too personally). He should have finished the whole thing in the 3rd set. I don’t know what to think – he looks great for a couple of sets than reverts to the bad form. The inconsistency is just so baffling. The only consolation is that playing like this he wouldn’t have made it far in the second week – if he could have beaten Lopez, he wouldn’t have had any chance against Djokovic! I think he should play for as long as he enjoys doing so, but I don’t know if he’ll ever get back to his old form or if it’s realistic to think that he’ll be a real contender for anymore grand slams!

  12. Caprice says:

    Well, after reading his full presser, I feel a lot better. I was afraid for Rafa’s spirit but he is as determined and defiant as ever. There’s a reason why Rafa is the greatest fighter in the sport!

    But I still think that he needs to improve his serve. His serve allows his opponents to be immediately on the offensive. It is hard for him to play aggressive if he always have to play catch up after the first 2 shots of the point.

    Today’s match was hard to watch, but I draw comfort from Rafa’s strength, and I am still confident that next year will be much better. I am looking forward to watching him play Beijing, Shanghai, Basel, Paris and (hopefully) WTF. Really hoping he makes it to top 8 and WTF.

  13. cythere72 says:

    I stayed up to watch the whole thing because I so wanted him to win and was willing it for him till the very end.

    I don’t understand why he kept hitting the ball to where Fognini was. It was insane. With his level of skill he can easily re-direct the ball. He isn’t a club player he is champion.

    Not sure what his next steps are but I want to see him back, back in form, back on top.

    There was a time that there were whispers that Roger was going to retire, he was on his way out. Now we hear the same about Rafa. Not true. He will come back. 2015 just wasn’t his year.

    I wonder though – since he has no points to defend, where will his ranking be on Monday?

    Rafa — you are my champion, win or lose. You will always be my champion.

  14. crossy says:

    I think Rafa will be ranked 7 when the US Open ranking points are added because David Ferrer also lost yesterday and has 90 points to lose. Rafa has none and is at present 15 points behind David.

  15. fr. says:

    Yes, Fognini defeat Rafa! Not Nadal! If Nadal was there that couldn’t happen!!!

  16. RAFAFAN1 says:

    After that unexpected (for Rafa as well as us, his fans) saddened loss due to his body letting him down Aus2014, Rafa was never the same. That loss was the start of it all. Very sad, but I don’t think Rafa have confidence in his body anymore. I think he is playing with fear since then. And I also think he only want to be healthy for Rio2016 and then start focussing on a life after tennis – his tennis centre. To miss London Olympics was hard for him and ya i think he just want to stay fit for Olympics. Hope I’m wrong, but that is my take on things. Rafa’s fire is not the same anymore for whatever reason. Sad, because we will NEVER EVER experience a player like Rafa again. I’m struggling to find a next generation player to follow because Rafa is just soooo unique. I admire Rafa sooo much, it borders on worshipping *sniff*.

    • Rob says:

      I think you are too sweeping in your conclusions. After losing the Oz final in 2014 Rafa won the French Open for the ninth time. His back problems improved just in time. But he has indeed had multiple issues with his health. Which he has been trying to brush off. I did think it odd to describe an appendectomy as a minor operation. When it is nothing of the kind even if performed with keyhole methods.

    • CB says:

      I’ve always felt that the loss at the Aussie in 2014 was terribly hard on Rafa’s psyche. Yes, he did recover for a good clay court season — but then other physical ailments took their toll, including appendicitis. All of those circumstances combined seem to have zapped Rafa’s confidence. But he is amazing as he continues to fight and to try to work through this. Like most of you, I am absolutely heartbroken by this result — but I have faith that Rafa and his team are doing their best to right the ship.

      • pasabolas says:

        That unexpected loss against Stan , a player who had not even won a set from Rafa ever, and the chance to enter history as the ONLY player to ever win all slams twice in his career, was devastating for his career and his psyche. Sure, he still won the French that year, but he himself said he wasn’t confident about winning after a mediocre claycourt season.Think of much hype he would have generated had he won the Australian, how many endorsements, and how many predictions that he could surpass Federer in the record books.
        Alas all that it’s gone now. Doubt he will ever win a slam again.

  17. Rob says:

    My view has been all year that the appendicitis and surgery was far more stressful than Rafa was willing to admit and that he should have rested after it for a few months ideally with a medical exemption to maintain his point score.

    My theory as a spectator from a distance is that he is suffering chronic fatigue. This is causing his level of play to be very inconsistent and preventing him from dealing with the stress of competition. His reaction times have slowed down against top players, his speed is reduced and he has a loss of coordination when going for winning shots.

    During the first two sets against Fognini he had a low error count which is why he was winning but he let Fognini into the match and he started to play better and better. Rafa then needed to hit clear winners but missed some attempted passes and was unwilling to try to pass as he lacked confidence in his ability to do so. That is why he kept returning the ball into the hitting zone of his opponent who was able to win repeatedly as a result. Obviously top players can hit winners all day if you cannot return well enough to get round them. Age alone is not an explanation as Federer has shown. Once his back problems of 2013 abated he improved greatly in 2014. So I think Rafa could recover his level. This kind of problem requires a different approach from one caused by a specific area of the body like the knees.

  18. SammyT says:

    As horrible as the loss was, we have to admit that, in sets 3-5, Fognini played at a level that would probably have beaten anyone. As has often been the case recently, a previously run-of-the-mill journeyman catches fire against Rafa and plays the match of his life (only to be meekly defeated the next round, which I think will also happen to Fognini against Lopez). From that perspective, this defeat is not as devastating as some of Rafa’s previous defeats this year. As Rafa said himself; he did not lose the match, Fognini won it.

    I do, however, believe that Rafa will probably not go back to his world-beating form any time soon, or ever for that matter. Federer had a similarly atrocious year in 2013, but he bounced back since his troubles that year were physical (i.e. back problems, new racket) which he has since overcome. Rafa’s troubles, on the other hand, are mental and those are much more difficult to overcome as has been abundantly clear in the inconsistent, tentative tennis he has been playing this year.

    He’s a fighter and he still seems willing to continue working hard to regain his form, but I’m not entirely optimistic that he will.

    • emir says:

      Same old same old NO NOT EVERYONE BEATİNG HİM plays all that well. Tennis media duty is sell it like that.( under the logic of giving credit to his opponents)There were many times he makes the other players look like they are better than they actually are. Yesterdays match was a huge example of that.

      • SammyT says:

        Easy there, tiger! No need to be a sour puss; it’s just tennis. And you’re wrong of course; many players played out of their shoes against Rafa only to be unceremoniously dismissed in the following match. These are hard facts that you can’t argue, unless you just like arguing in which case I won’t waste my time with you.

        Finally, what you said about the “tennis media” is just paranoid drivel that only exists in your head, lol!

  19. Tina says:

    Indeed someone should give Rafa a huge hug, as he walked out from this crazy match. The look he had in the tunnel was so heartbreaking, and yes, he fought his heart out, but it wasn’t enough.
    Somehow it left me thinking one positive thing despite the brutal loss: I do understand why people miss Rafa, when he hasn’t been able to play. He brings so much to the game, not only his style of play, but his passion, will and fight is still outstanding. It is not, and will never be the same without him. That doesn’t change the fact, that it is hard to be Rafa-and a Rafa fan these days, but as long as Rafa finds it in his heart and spirit to keep fighting, it is all that matters to me.
    New inspiration or not, new coach or not, I am in no possition to answer that, he is willing to keep going. That is admirable in my book, and it is uplifting despite the current situation right now.
    Just after the match a song was playing on my radio, and the lyrics couldn’t be more appropriate to sum up my feelings after this years last Grand Slam.
    “And as the seasons change, one thing remains the same. You’ ve always been right there with arms wide open.
    You’re the treasure in my soul, and I will never let you go.
    A love affair that never will be broken.
    You have been golden. ”
    (Sir Cliff Richard)
    VAMOS and forgive me for being emotionel:-)

    • Caprice says:

      Beautiful post, Tina. That is what truly his fans feel, and you put it so beautifully. The song describes what we all feel perfectly.

    • CB says:

      You are definitely forgiven for being emotional. What Rafa fan could watch him walk through the tunnel as he exited the stadium and not be reduced to tears. :(

  20. ymk_india says:


    Just to understand the general vibe of fellow Rafians, Would it be possible for you to conduct a poll on this website about 2 things and show the results:

    1) Should Rafa hire a additional coach ?

    2) Should Rafa consult a sports psychologist?

    Thank you.

    PS: A counter about number of votes polled would also be great.

  21. mallorcanchamp says:

    I’m not going to write a doom & gloom post predicting Rafa’s end of his glory days. It doesn’t make any sense.

    First because Rafa is not in a worse position than he was in Wimbledon -you can say is about the same, or a bit better, but not worse-

    Second, because after the battle both players gave on court last night, it’s unfair to criticize somebody who’s trying with all his enthusiasm.

    Third, you can’t be lapidary on Rafa if you’re a sensible supporter. Uncountable great memories surpass this bad year BY FAR.

    I’ve been reading this website since 2009-2010 (can’t remember exactly) but never came to post my messages until Wimbledon 2015. I’m the complete opposite to a fair weather fan :D, so I just don’t understand reading apocalyptical things from his fans.

    I know it’s tough to see him lose a 2-0 advantage for the 1st time in GS and lose a close match, but Rafa had lots of close victories in his favor that built him not just a victorious career, but a legendary one.

    We have to accept that he will have some more close defeats in the future. Some of his records will get broken or will get stopped like the “10 years winning at least 1 gs” one. It’s sports nature itself.

    Someday Rafa won’t even have the opportunity to compete the way he made us enjoy/suffer last night. We have to value that he still can make it close and we should be sending these thoughts to him so he can keep walking the improvement way with a “colm” mind.

    Now let’s talk a bit about the match.

    First of all, I want to congratulate Fabio, he just got better and better as the watch went on, hitting spectacular, flat, short-swinged shots, very often in a flat-footed position, some of them barely going over the net. This ability is the jewel of his tennis talents and was a joy to see even for a Rafa supporter like me. He’s another one of a few great pure talents on the tour that are big underachievers.

    Rafa was playing great hardcourt tennis for the first two sets. He was in full control of those two mainly because required intensity to play against Fogna was there, and Rafa’s a superior player (especially on the tactical part of the game) so he won them fairly comfortable. He was being as aggressive as I’ve seen in him, probably 05′-06′ when he was sometimes very aggressive (but not as balanced and HC experienced as now).

    At the first games into the 3rd, Fognini started to hit wild shots and he was basically crashing them all on the net. For a second I thought it was over, because from my point of view Fabio was surrendering (anybody who has seen some of his matches knows he often goes crazy and throws the matches away if things are not going his way)

    But on the other side, oh boy, you got Rafa, who already made a great physical effort to dominate the match till this point. At some point in the 3rd it was clear he already lost half of his previous intensity.

    Rafa made two steps back in his rally position, serve was still going at the same speed, but it was like hitting with a bludgeon, all power but its variety of placement -so its unpredictability- disappeared.

    -A little break from my breakdown- You know guys Rafa has this very powerful style of hitting when he wants to be aggressive. He uses all his body to find power and accuracy. This has to be very tiresome for sure, especially at the point of where Rafa’s in his career. On the other side, we’ve got Fognini, who I believe was still quite fresh at this point. The only thing that he did better than Rafa in the first 2 sets was not getting into the intensity battle Rafa’s proposed, partially thanks to the italian’s hitting style, very similar to Federer’s…what they call “effortless hitting”.

    Then, I felt the same as “Sia”… Some games into the 4th, I saw very few possibilities (those few who rely on epic) for Rafa to win this match. (How crazy is that just a few games before I thought Fognini was surrendering)

    The italian surely had to realize Rafa just wasn’t putting the same intensity on the 3rd than in the 2 first sets, so from the start of the 4th he went fully aggressive on any “easy” ball sent from Rafa. (Winner Stats of Fognini: 12-9-12 for 3 first sets…17-20 in the 2 last sets!!! in about the same games and points played).

    Fog also made few more errors in the last two. It was clear he was dictating the ending of the majority of the points. So Fognini took full control of the match because Rafa could not sustain his intensity anymore…(as it happened at some point in Rafa’s 2 first matches!)

    Rafa lost the upper hand he had in the first 2 sets and the match went off Rafa’s hands practically in the blink of an eye. From some point in the fourth it was like seeing a very long fall with a dismal end.

    Our champ kept fighting in the 5th with all his energy remains, even if he couldn’t make a proper serve to save his life, he got back to roaring and being ultra aggressive on the returns, recovering back as many breaks as he could.

    That’s what I’m proud of Rafa from last night and denies me to recriminate anything to him. He just gave his all and while I was seeing him breaking back time and time again, I was thinking this could be the victory Rafa needed to feel like the old Rafa again.

    Too bad Fognini kept getting better and better feelings, and was at the 5th when he made the most spectacular shots of the match, finding incredible crosscourt angles that Rafa could not defend.

    Rafa was exhausted for the last game of the match (that changover put a dagger on the endurance of his legs and removed any possibility to get one last break for a 5-all score)

    Rafa is right now in a tough position because any player who has enough level or matchup advantage to take him to a close score, doesn’t fear him anymore. Champions rely so much on his “aura” and you can’t lose it for a long time like Rafa did this year or you’ll get “tennis disrespected”. Last night was the most “disrespectful” night in tennis terms :)

    Fortunately, Rafa has lost the anxiety he had before when things were going utterly bad (from AO till WB). The will to fight is back, it’s just the execution is not good enough (consistency/intensity for what he’s trying to do are his main problems now)

    Will he find big victories again? Nobody knows, but at least he has corrected his game A LOT compared to the first months of the season.

    I think he’s now more motivated than before summer break/Hamburg to get back to his old position in the tennis world. I was happy to see enjoying himself on the court in this US Open series and I can feel the fighting spirit again. 5th against Fog set was the utter proof.

    But you can always find more motivation and transform it into trying new things to get better. He’s still young enough to give those things a try.

    Here’s when I make to myself some of the same questions as in the Wimbledon thread:

    Is it just enough to regain his “bull-form”? (which many people believe it doesn’t exist anymore and I myself have doubts after seeing how he struggled with his intensity in his 3 USO matches) or does he need to mix it up with new tactical/technical changes? (especially on serve and return)

    Is it enough motivation the one which comes from losses, to get back to his best form or find improvements in his game?

    Would he also welcome motivation from finding himself capable of doing different things in his tactical/technical current scheme?

    Will he go through another year with the same approach, same team or will he try new things being on a position that he has nothing to lose?

    Has he talked with Agassi this month? ;)

    He can improve many things, but there’s one and only one which assures to a tennis player longevity: THE SERVE.

    Look at Federer, Feli, Seppi, Karlovic, they’re still on top 30+ because they can rely his game on a one-two punch (serve+fh)

    Only exceptions are his spanish pals (Ferrer & Robredo) but they have the advantage of being smaller and better physical freaks.

    Rafa’s been a very muscular “heavyweight” formed body since ’06-’07 and I’m afraid his “engine” can run this heavyweight anymore at a consistent intensity level for 3 competitive sets against the best players.

    If Rafa can make some improvements, especially on his 2nd serve, he will get lots of free points, tire less, so better energy savings for decisive moments and we won’t see him in desperation mode like in the 5th set against Fog. Rafa is not getting enough free points, nor a good amount of winners, especially on HC’s. (Last night 7-5-4-8-6…40 less than Fognini!)

    At the moment he misses his first serve, the point is something like 70-30 in favor of his rival. His second serve has to get better, because now Rafa can’t move quick enough (has lost a step on his speed power) to the sides to send a deep shot and reestablish his domination of the point. He’s just on the defensive side when serve is not working or even worse, he misses badly trying to be aggressive when he doesn’t have to be.

    I also believe a consistent power serve with good variety of placement would directly bring back his devastating weapon, his FH.

    Return of serve is his other “Achilles heel” but I have to say I’ve seen a bigger improvement on his return this summer, so it doesn’t worry me as much as the serve.

    It was painful to see him walk that corridor to the locker rooms with a dejected face. I still think the way he felt after 2014 A0 final was worse. Toughest night for his supporters was last night probably.

    Rafa’s always been a winner. Not just in his ATP career, but also when he was a kid. It has been told at many familiar stories that he was very competitive in any aspect of his life. He only learnt to win, nobody taught him to lose.

    Now he’s getting used to lose and that’s just too bad for the heart of a champion. He’s sure afraid deep inside of not coming back to winning ways never again.

    I’m not giving up on the rest of 2015. I think I now understand what Rafa was trying to do against Schwartzman. He was trying to be ultra aggressive, getting out of his comfort zone, and that takes some time to get used to and find better results. I hope he keeps finding better feelings on the indoor season. He can’t get back on being passive.

    Even tough by his post-match face he seemed deeply saddened, he should not get discouraged by the results, only thing could discourage him is refusing not to try to improve, to fight. These things are not in Rafa’s DNA.

    I want you all guys to keep your spirits up for this season’s remains. We have to take into account not only what we’ve seen last night, but on the improvements of the recent past.

    Good times will come.

    *Sorry for the length of my post*

    • Caprice says:

      MallorcanChamp, thanks for a very insightful post. I always enjoy reading your posts even though like you, I have been here a while but am only a recent contributor.

      First of all, I feel that one or two rotten apples do not spoil the whole bunch. For the one or two fair weather fans who diss Rafa when he is down, there are countless others who are fiercely loyal to the very end.

      Rafa fans are a special breed imo. Unlike say Federer fans who swoon over his his “perfect effortless” tennis and “majestic elegance” on court, or say, Djokovic fans who are proud of their fellow Serbian or in awe of his “no weakness” machine-like tennis etc, the deep affection and admiration Rafa fans feel for Rafa goes beyond tennis.

      Rafa is neither perfect like Federer nor a machine like Djokovic. Unlike them, Rafa has had to climb mountains, many of them seemingly insurmountable at the time. Unlike them, Rafa is vulnerable and has many fears, he is honest and transparent like a child and wears his humanity on his sleeve. Rafa is human, and as fellow humans we bond with him instantly. And yet this seemingly fragile, sensitive child-like Rafa is the conqueror of mountains. In the end, the biggest mountain of all by far, is himself, namely his health.

      About the match, many people, including Rafa himself, gave a lot of credit to Fognini. From my perspective, even though Fognini played brilliantly, like a top 5 player, in the match of his life, the match outcome had nothing to do with Fognini and everything to do with Rafa.

      It started with Lukas Rosol who played the match of his life, followed by Nick Kyrgios, and in this year a whole slew of others who played the match of their lives followed by a quick exit in the following match. The storyline is becoming stale.

      Truth is that Rafa allowed his opponent to play the match of his life. Serving has never been Rafa’s forte but before 2015 Rafa was able to use his serve to execute his favourite 1-2 punch strategy or to launch his fearhand to dictate the point from get go. Rafa’s forehand has always been acknowledged to be the best in tennis, but has disappeared this year. Why?
      Many say his surgery and time away caused him to lose firepower and pop in his forehand, that his timing is half a step slower, that lack of confidence caused his forehand to miss etc etc.

      That may be true but to me, the main cause of his missing forehand (and other problems) comes down to his serving and return of serve. Like many previous opponents with the skill to do so, Fognini was able to read Rafa’s serve better and better as the match progressed, and therefore able to seize the initiative and dictate the point from the start. This effectively robs Rafa of chances to use his forehand, his bread and butter shot. Anxiety and loss of confidence follows.

      Contrast this to say, Coric. He was young and inexperienced, had trouble returning Rafa’s serve, and never really managed to read Rafa’s serve better as the match went on. That was one of several reasons Rafa had the opportunity to dictate points with his forehand and with that comes “colm” and confidence.

      In his presser, Rafa appeared very certain he knew what weaknesses he needs to work on. One thing I know is, he is going to try to develop a more aggressive game. I hope he begins with the serve and return of serve. Would he benefit from a specialist serving coach? Paul Annacone? He was coach to the best server in history (Pete Sampras) and to Federer who can serve with one eye shut. Return of serve? Andre Agassi? One of the very best returner of serves in tennis.

      • pasabolas says:

        In the men’s game, you need to have a good serve, be it poweful or efficient. Novak has evolved his serve to the point that he’s hard to break and can serve his way out of trouble. His serve is efficient, with a variety of spins, pace and location. His kick second serve is very impressive and allows him to stay dominant. Rafa’s serve has been deteriorating since he lost the Australian Open to Stan. I find that he doesn ‘t turn enough to get body rotation into the shot. In fact, the technique he’s using in hitting the other shots can be improved. His backhand,while still good for passing shots, is relatively weak compared to other top players.Too handsy, not enough body torque rotation. How many winners can he hit from the back in match? It’s more like a blocking shot, with poor redirection ability, mostly going cross-court. I’dlike to see a strong down the line drive that catches his opponent off guard, like Murray, Djokovic, Serena, or the marvelous , powerful one-handed of Wawrinka or Gasquet.. Rafa’s is too susceptible to the Davidenko play of opening the court by hitting sharp angles to his backhand once or twice until a short ball is returned to then hit to Rafa’s forehand side. Fognini was able to do it almost perfectly in the last 2 sets, even attacking with his backhand crooscourt, hitting with pace and angle.
        Rafa won’t stall his decline unless he becomes more aggressive in his game.In the past he was able to get away with being passive because of his defensive and retrieval abilities, forcing a mistake by his opponent to give him the point. It frustates how he lets himself be bullied by the likes of Dolgapolov, Nishikori, Fognini.
        Vamos, Rafa. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. Your body, speed and timing is not the same now.
        If you don’t have a good serve, you need at least a good return of serve, that gets you to take control of the point

        • Caprice says:

          I agree that Djokovic’s serve has become very clutch, it is quite amazing how many good first serves he hits when under pressure. In fact his overall game has become very clutch. He still has lapses in concentration but always manages to pull through when it matters. He is rounding into a true champion.

          Talking about serves, I am shocked that the ATP and ITF rules allow Federer to make sudden movements and sudden running into the court as soon as the serving opponent tosses the ball into the air!

          If the audience (far away from court) is not allowed to move before serving, how can it be possible that the receiver (on court and in direct line of sight) be allowed to make sudden scrambling movement as the server is tossing the ball?

          Sorry if this is off topic.

        • Aero says:

          Your definition of insanity certainly sums up Rafa’s game at the moment. Interesting comment too about the serve which. makes sense due to the back injury sustained at that final. Perhaps he is a little too conscious of it happening again which may impair his ability to serve better.

          I recall Feds string of losses in 2013 I think, he tried several solutions including a new racket. Then in 2014 once Edberg was brought on board things changed. Fed’s competitive game improved which I didn’t think it could, hence he’s back to number 2 and able to still hold his own against the likes of Djokovic. But then again Fed always had a great serve. Nevertheless, Rafa needs to evolve and improve in areas of weakness as you pointed out.