Beijing: Sad score, encouraging tennis

REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Photo by REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Rafa played #1 Novak Djokovic in the China Open final today. Rafa’s play, court positioning and body language were so much better today than they have been in ages. It wasn’t enough, however. to halt the unstoppable Djokovic in Beijing. Djokovic wins 6-2, 6-2.

Nadal Djokovic
Statistics on Serve
Aces 0 7
Double Faults 1 0
1st Serve % 71% 82%
1st Serve Points Won 19/34 (56%) 33/47 (70%)
2nd Serve Points Won 5/14 (36%) 5/10 (50%)
Break Points Saved 1/5 (20%) 2/2 (100%)
Service Games Played 8 8
Statistics on Return
1st Return Points Won 14/47 (30%) 15/34 (44%)
Second Return Points Won 5/10 (50%) 9/14 (64%)
Break Points Won 0/2 (%) 4/5 (80%)
Return Games Played 8 8
Statistics on Points
Total Service Points Won 24/48 (50%) 38/57 (67%)
Total Return Points Won 19/57 (33%) 24/48 (50%)
Total Points Won 43/105 (41%) 62/105 (59%)
Other Stats
Winners 7 23
Unforced errors 15 20

Match notes:
Continuing a trend this week, Rafa won the toss and elected to serve. It backfired as he was broken in the first game. (That would be his worst game of the first set, but not the first time he would be broken.) Rafa had break chances in the 6th game, but Djokovic held. Rafa went up 40-0 in the next game, but some crazy, exciting points later, Djokovic broke for a 5-2 lead. Djokovic held and the first set was his.

After both men held to start set two, Rafa stopped at 0-30 on his serve to get some attention from the trainer on his right foot. He was wincing when he came back out onto the court but seemed to move okay as he was broken to give Djokovic a 2-1 lead. Djokovic broke again in the 5th game for a 5-1 lead.

37 Responses

  1. Francine says:

    Thanks for the title Miri! Encouraging indeed.

  2. beachfan says:

    As always I agree with Miri. The score looks bad, but Rafa played better. He needs to raise his level even more the next time, but Rafa was fighting to the end. I am encouraged. Sadly, Novak is just so confident now and rightfully so. Rafa needed to play without any errors to win. Rafa should be encouraged for Shanghai.

  3. Jessi888 says:

    Our Champ is back in the game! Good focus and good intensity in this final. Keep fighting and work on your serve in order to get some easy points going forward! Vamos Rafa! You’re a class act!

  4. crossy says:

    Thought Rafa played a very good first set. Just a pity he lost his first serve but otherwise the level of play was much better than the score suggests. He had his chances but unfortunately Djokovic was just too strong today. Am concerned about his foot injury. Hope he is ok for Shanghai and the rest of the season.

  5. Elizabeth Howard says:

    Small margins at times made the difference. Rafael played some great tennis but the score did not reflected that. I would be very positive about his progress. Hope that the injury is not serious and that it will not inhibit him. He was the essence of grace and dignity in his words, so proud to be his supporter.

  6. Rob says:

    Better play but a hard opponent. We must hope the foot is OK so there are no more physical issues.

  7. emir says:

    He looks weaponless all weak and against a top player he firmly beaten there shouldnt be any denying to that. There were some good points in the 1 set and thats where all it ends. To be honest ı am convinced that Rafa can never be the same player as he once was. Rafa isnt Fed or Sampras type of player who can win some free points on his serve and age 29 he isnt as intimidating player physically and mentally as he once was,to be honest that was his biggest WEAPON he used to have. Rafa has style of play that isnt all that friendly for a getting aged player. Unless Rafa play GS match with Djokovic ı will skip and wont watch this match up in a minor tournament anymore. He looks hopeless and ı see no changing of that to honest. He doesnt even have the ability to make it a physical contest anymore.

    • RAFAFAN1 says:

      Ok then, go get yourself something else to do…… . Or start supporting ND.

      • Aero says:

        You need to wake up from whatever dream world you are living in and face reality. So tell us the positives from this terrible season he is having? I personally can’t stand ND but let’s be honest Rafa right now doesn’t even come close to the level ND is at. I said it yesterday it would be an easy win and it was. Rafa has reached a final but it wasn’t easy sailing to get there. Others have their opinions so let them say it! I have to agree with Emir, most here are Rafa fans, however, you need to face reality. By the way, where is your main “positive” post for others to respond to?

        • mallorcanchamp says:

          We all faced reality this year.

          Difference is some people welcomes improvements, no matter how little or big they are, and look at the future with hope, because there’s no reason to give up on a sportsman who gave so many good memories to his supporters.

          Others look like seeking instant glory, just focusing into this Djokovic-Nadal sort of discussion, which right now is out of question and I’m convinced it is not concerning Rafa right now.

          Rafa is on his way out of this big hole he fell into at the end of 2014. I believe his head and shoulders are already out of it. Time will tell.

          • Aero says:

            It’s not just about Djokovic versus Nadal, you could stick up any other top 100 player and we’d be having the same discussion. Every match here was a struggle for Nadal, in his first round a player outside the top 200 broke him several times. Honestly, he tells the press its not confidence anymore however, the results just aren’t there. The commentators in the semifinal brought out his past three strengths, his forehand, metal strength and footwork/movement. They said his forehand has gone its power and penetration just aren’t there anymore or can’t be sustained, we get occasional glimpses of it, the commentators said he no longer feels the ball the way he used to as reflected in shanked/easy forehand misses. This affects his metal strength which affects his decision making and thus his footwork also suffers. It all results in a guy without weapons! Indeed time will tell and I hope I’m wrong, though time this season has already told me enough to say he’ll not return to his former glory. Perhaps a super coach and sports psychologist can help.

    • CB says:

      Wow. I think we must have watched a different match. It was an entertaining match with great tennis from both players. Rafa continues to improve. I felt it was very encouraging that he never looked exasperated — he is definitely gaining in confidence. I wasn’t able to see the Djokovic/Ferrer match but the announcers said Ferrer didn’t put up nearly the fight that Rafa did, even though the scoreline was the same for both matches.

      • Aero says:

        No, we watched the same match CB. If what you said is true that Rafa fought more than Ferrer did only to achieve the same results, it really tells you a lot about where Rafa’s game really is. He played some long rallies against Djokovic in the first set and had some break chances but some easy shanked forehands hit into outer space lost it for him. Commentators said that was a thing you would never have seen in Rafa a few years ago. I think his unforced error count has been higher than his winners in most if not all matches of this tournament which says a lot. To relay again what they said, he needs his forehand back and also needs to go for broke on his first serves and have more faith in his second serve to name a few areas of improvement. Right now his slow serves don’t win him any points against great returners like Djokovic.

        I don’t see the improvements others see, at least nothing worth cheering about. I think at 3 2 in the first set on Djokovic’s serve, we saw glimpses of vintage Rafa, great baseline play from both players, Rafa moving Djokovic around only then to shank an easy forehand that would have got the match back on serve. Moments like these are all to often these days.

        • CB says:

          It was clearly obvious that the announcers were saying that Ferrer had little chance against Djokovic, whereas Rafa made the match close and the scoreline could have been much closer. You can be a pessimist if you care to; that is your right. I prefer to be an optimist. I guess it is the teacher in me — I prefer to be encouraged and encouraging when I see consistent improvement,

  8. mallorcanchamp says:

    He just keeps getting better and better. Today I saw lots of glimpses of the best HC Nadal. Rallying beatifully consistent with deep and flat shots that moved Djokovic to the places he couldn’t cover.

    Djokovic was simply floating on his untouchable aura so no taints on Rafa today, he did his best, but to win you got to play close to Novak’s level and break his unbeaten confidence…it’s still to soon for this.

    Loved how he played against Sock and Fognini. This last one was saying at some point in their match “che mi manca lui!” (what’s missing on my tennis today!) well Fognini, clearly Rafa was hitting deeper and more inside the court and when this happens, don’t expect to play your best tennis.

    Today Rafa was even more inspired and just a few close misses (and painted lines from Novak) made the difference.

    Djokovic received the message that Rafa is coming back and I keep maintaining my thought I told during the US Open that Rafa will arrive just in perfect shape and great confidence to give more than a surprise to the best tennis players in the world at the WTC Finals.

    Let’s hope that foot just had a bad twitch.

    • RAFAFAN1 says:

      Thank u for this positive report. Was not able to watch, but i saw a lot of positive comments on social media wrt Rafa’s improved tennis in todays match. Muchas gracias.

      • emir says:

        I am not going to feel sorry about my posts because ı cant play the game of Pollyanna anymore. The only positive thing about Rafa at the moment is he already had a great career no mater what. I really would like to see Rafa prove me wrong but the thing is he is playing very badly ever since his defeat in 2014 AO final .Last year clay court season was bad as well he would have arrived RG with out any titles if Nishikori not injured in Madrid just like this year.With nearly 2 years of bad tennis ( for a guy who is legend double digit GS titles so ı dont compare him with normal players ) age 29 time is running out and it is difficult to be super positive,not just because of the results but because of the level of play he brings on court. He looks weaponless slow and heavy armed. I really hope he really enjoys what he is doing because he is clearly struggles out there. For me top class tennis days is over for him if he proves me wrong ı would be really happy.

    • Couldn’t agree more with you. So happy and proud of Rafa for the way he played his heart out, trying to play aggressively and going for his shots. We all know he’s still far from his best and needs to improve every aspects of his game considerably. But today he managed to make Novak and his team look uncomfortable at times.

      The match was tighter than the score suggested. And he’s extremely good in the 5th game of the 1st set. Hope his ankle is ok and he’ll be competitively ready for Shanghai. Overall, it’s very encouraging like miri and the topic said.

  9. Cikaba says:

    The Djoker has got Rafa’s number. He studied Rafa’s game for three consecutive years before going on a demolition exercise. I’m afraid it is the end for Rafa as far as the Djoker is concerned.

  10. Cikaba says:

    I mean, come on guys. It was good while it lasted…rivalry between them; lately it has become one-sided and I’m sick and tired of people not facing up to reality of the matter. In my book, if you are beaten by a score of 6-2, in straight sets, that is a demolition no matter how you analyse it. So, this talk about Nadal playing well and the match being tight is neither here nor there. It will one day happen to the Djoker, too. The other players will catch up to him, just like they caught up to RF.

  11. john f says:

    I’ll join those supporting Rafa’s incremental improvements over this tournament – and especially over the year – rather than “not” winning. Of course djokovic is and has been dominant , over everyone – he only just missed the calendar year grand slam by the way and has been nearly untouchable by anyone and everyone ,Rafa included. But the point the naysayers are missing is that from this tournament Rafa is now being” included”, he’s making the later stages of tournaments whereas only recently he hasn’t been . But the more important points are the obvious changes in court speed, positioning, flat hitting, angled …all of which bodes well for Rafa. How many years – a decade? – have we all agonised over Rafa’s service in almost every match he has played except the US open 2013 – where he silenced everyone. I hope he’ll get there, honing skills as he plays more and more against top ten opponents (as well as the many good players slightly lower ranked). There used to be an old advert where Hertz was always #1 car rental and AVis#2….Avis’ slogan was “we try harder”! Rafa had that attitude for so many years up to the 2008 wimbledon triumph, behind Federer. I don’t think he’ll ever lose that attitude, which makes him so special, and for me it has been good to see him triumph over demons on the court and translate the attitude into results. I admire the comments djokovic made about rafa after the match too .OF course i’ll probably still be supporting Rafa when he is playing masters events, so yes I am biased!! Go Rafa.

    • Djokovic also said “I knew that he’s going to make mistakes and he’s going to give me shorter balls so I can dominate the rallies, which happened”. Unlike some of Rafa’s fans, I didn’t mind he said that even though I don’t like him. (But I respect him and his game.) It all depends on how ones interpret thing. For me, it’s not an insult but a fact that every player including Rafa himself knows. Let’s wait and see what he and other players can do when Rafa cut downs those mistakes and short balls.

    • Cikaba says:

      So what exactly did ND do to turn the tables around on everybody? Look at his team. He made changes there… and his diet, got married and became a father…. the point being that Rafa is unwilling to make changes and is still sticking to the same, same old methods, which will get him the same old, same old results. Quote: “I knew that he’s going to make mistakes and he’s going to give me shorter balls so I can dominate the rallies, which happened”. End of story.

  12. beachfan says:

    I am not a Rafa fan who is unrealistic about the challenges facing him, but I don’t believe in giving up hope. I have stopped reading some other posts because of the overly negative comments on Rafa. In six months we
    will know more than we do today. Rafa keeps working hard and I love his sunny outlook on life. To me the major difference between Rafa and Novak today was the latter’s supreme confidence. He has earned that confidence. Rafa made a hard court final, he is moving up in the race to London. I am hoping for the best on his foot. Yes, it was still a loss, but not a rout despite the score.

  13. Roxitova says:

    This match was pretty much what i expected, and I am on the side of those who are willing to go with Rafa, patiently , one step at a time, and not expect the sun and the moon–because it’s those out of whack expectations that fuel the pessimism.

    He himself said he is not in Djok’s league at this time and that’s obvious.

    Back in 2011 Rafa still beat everyone but Djok and lost to Djok 7 times in a row. The match today was as lopsided as most of those losses (only the first set was closer than the score indicated, looking at the stats now for the first time, they clearly demonstrate Djok’s dominance, the score was not misleading) but what I noticed is the match looked different than than the losing patterns of 2011, so at least that is not being revisited.

    Rafa’s FH wasn’t bad–a few too many shanks, the shot that i found to be the biggest problem was the BYH ROS, really weak, chipped or sliced, Rafa could never get a good piece of it to lay into.
    Djok was all over those weak returns and took dominance in the points on his service game early and consistently. Rafa’s BH slice in general is not a great shot and he uses it too much. Rafa has such a good BH two hander I wish he would play more BH’s with that instead of the slice. For that he might have to take ball earlier. I saw him taking the ball earlier against Fog, and it worked.
    Djok is always another story.

    Anyway, it is not inconceivable that someday Rafa may beat Djok again (remember in 2011 it looked over, and then there was 2013) but changes are going to have to be made.
    In the meanwhile, if he can start beating other top 5 players that will be enough.
    He should be able to.

    • Cikaba says:

      Change is inevitable in life. It is either we change or change will change us whether we like it or not. Rafa is unwilling to make personnel changes and, in my opinion, is getting the results he deserves.

    • Aero says:

      You said “He himself said he is not in Djok’s league at this time and that’s obvious.” Most other top players on tour will tell you they have the belief that they can win. For Rafa to admit to being out of Djoker’s league tells me his metal fortitude is gone. He used to have the game to beat Djoker but not anymore. It’s because Djoker has added to his team and made improvements to his game, Rafa hasn’t, he’s playing with the same predictable patterns everyone knows about, he is stuck in the past. Many are screaming that he now needs a super coach on his team to take him to the next level and help him evolve. If that doesn’t happen I fear 2016 will even be a worse year for him as he hits 30.

      • Roxitova says:

        Rafa’s mental strength in a match is less than it used to be, but that’s not the same thing as knowing he’s not in Djok’s league at the moment, and one of the great things about Rafa, is that he has always been honest.

        He only had the game to beat Djok in 2013, when Djok’s level fell off–and before 2011, when Djok’s level rose drastically.

        I’m very aware of the predictable patterns etc., I’ve monitored this more closely than you would want to know, I watch Rafa obsessively for shot depth, I believe it’s the biggest general problem–look at the 2013 USO final and the shot depth–it was incredible!; the poor depth has something to do with being forced into a defensive position (from more shot balls!) that Rafa doesn’t manage well with his BH slice. Fodder for Djok. Rafa’s BH slice serve returns against Djok yesterday were a huge problem as far as I’m concerned.

        Rafa couldn’t even get into his predictable patterns, which don’t work against Djok anyway. It’s all based on the ISO FH which doesn’t trouble Djok, being dragged out wide to Djok’s BH; Djok loves it! The same thing that beat Fed is useless against Djok–that is the core of the problem.

        But then this year Rafa started losing to all kinds of people, and that is a new problem.

        As far as supercoach is concerned, I don’t care how famous they were–they have have to right for Rafa. Who would that person be? Some say Moya which strikes me as the best answer I’ve heard, but I have no idea on who is out there. Rafa would have to have enormous respect for them, whoever they are.

        I agree new blood is needed, a change of tactics, refinement of game plans, even strokes etc. etc.

        • Aero says:

          Agreed he is honest but that conveys no self belief. His humility endears him to the crowd but has also been his undoing. For a player in the top ten not to believe he is in the same league as Djokovic implies his self doubt is still there, that feeds into the psyche of his opponents and gives them an edge. Even top 50 players when going up against the best believe they have the game to win (at least they say so even if it isn’t really so), they are well aware that their opponent might have an off day, or that they may just play brilliantly and win on their own merit. All is possible right as rare as that may be!

          I disagree with the point “He only had the game to beat Djok in 2013, when Djok’s level fell off” as if he was never at that Djokovic’s level. Remember that there was a time when he dominated Djokovic. Djok’s level in 2013 didn’t drop off, Rafa was just better so give he some credit. Rafa had come back hungry and was playing awe inspiring tennis. His serving was great and he was shortening points, being far more aggressive than ever before, his mind was completely in the game. This was a new and improved Rafa which took every player by surprise including Djokovic considering his long layoff time. Rafa’s game had evolved, so right there and then he was the best player on tour, and Djokovic himself admitted it. Djokovic however, has continued to fine tune his game with the help of Becker. Rafa has regressed not only has his game stagnated but it has lost some of the power it used to have, is this body, mind or perhaps a bit of both? I think both.

          There are so many things off in Rafa’s game, you mention one. His mind, forehand and serve to name a few more that’s pretty much his entire game!

          In discussing a super coach I found it interesting that uncle Toni wasn’t only open to the idea but mentioned that if Rafa wanted Năstase he wouldn’t object, perhaps he was just using Năstase as an example, we can’t read too much into it. I honestly don’t know who would be the best fit, Agassi comes to my mind, only Rafa’s team would know who would be the best fit. But what I do know is that something has to change with Rafa’s game and a super coach can’t hurt him given his poor level of play this season.

  14. casmis says:

    Or maybe this is his value system – tennis is important – but loyalty to friends and family, particularly family – is most important. Throwing Toni under the bus, even if it might mean an improvement in his game – just not an option – a violation of Rafa’s essence.
    I agree with many of the comments – to me there is great improvement – his tennis is significantly better than earlier this year and even though it was not a great score, many of the rallies were quite competitive. I think if he keeps making it to the later stages in tournaments, he will have the opportunity to compete against players of a higher caliber which will force a better game from Rafa. Apparently his post match comments indicate he feels good about his progress. He is teaching us all patience and acceptance. His tennis is what it is today and it will either get better or it won’t. If it doesn’t, he remains one of the greats of the game – on an off the court.

    • Roxitova says:

      Re Loyalty, do you know that Toni himself said that if there aren’t improvements by 2016 they’ll have to bring in someone new?
      Let’s not call it throwing Toni under the bus–that’s an exaggeration that makes it seems cruel–if it worked it would benefit everyone on Rafa’s team.

      But whether it will happen is another story. I kind of doubt it.

      But what if Toni insisted it does happen?

      • emir says:

        İf they are really open to the idea of new coach,they have to do it now. They shouldnt wait Rafa to be a player who is in his mid 30s. I always think new coach thing is a little bit an exaggeration by tennis media and some fans but if they want to try they shouldnt be too LATE to try it.

        • Aero says:

          The results are clearly there for other players, Djokovic, Fed and Murray all made significant improvements with so called super-coaches (ex pros). I agree that if they are going to do it do it now, enough time has already passed to realize that. Rafa isn’t going to get that edge back by the clay court season next year doing what he is currently doing. The practice sessions are good, the confidence is good and yet he continues falling way short of expectations. Something is still missing and a fresh approach may work wonders!

  15. Susanna728 says:

    Personally, I felt happy after the match. Beforehand I didn’t think Rafa had a prayer of winning so I wasn’t expecting it. Novak is the Serena of men’s tennis these days. He doesn’t miss and you can’t get the ball away from him. No one can beat him unless he’s having an off day. So all I was hoping was that Rafa would feel he had nothing to lose and would hit out and go for his shots which he did a lot of the time, particularly in the first set. He didn’t look nervous, which I think is significant, and he stayed in the rallies and hit a lot of amazing shots. He looked like his old self much of the time. The match was a lot closer than the score indicates. I hope can take the next step up but he is where he is and I still adore him.

  16. Einstein14 says:

    Hi Rafa fans, let us hope our Rafa will survive Ivo today. The score in Beijin did not quite justify the way Rafa played. There were lots of positives to take a way from that match. I only wish he would not make it so easy for Novak by giving him the ball back all the time with his forehand crosscourt. Novak and a lot of other players know what Rafa’s usual defensive mode is, mainly forehand crosscourt + backhand crosscourt. I am hoping that a new couch will bring more variation to this, because Novak, Fognini… just wait there and hit a winner. If Rafa went more often for longline shots from both sides, then Novak and Co. would not have such an easy time. Vamos Rafa.