Basel: Runner up

Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images

Rafa lost 3-6, 7-5, 3-6 to Roger Federer in the Basel final today. I didn’t get to see the whole match (charity walk and work prevented me from doing so), but the parts I saw were filled with high-quality tennis and were a reminder of why we used to look forward to Fedal matches so much. A lot of people are being all, “but Rafa usually beats Federer, surely this is another sign of doom.” But they aren’t taking into account one main factor: it was played indoors. Fed now leads their indoor head-to-head 5-1. So, basically, while I always want Rafa to win and would have been thrilled with a victory, given the “I” word, I wasn’t surprised by the outcome. My main concern is the return of the knee tape.

Match wrap-up and highlights on the ATP site – including this quote from Rafa:

“My goal is to get back to my level and be competitive against the top players again and today I was very competitive against one of the best players in the world,” said Nadal. “The match wasn’t far away from me. He played well and I played well too. The match was very close to win, but I think he served very well in the third. I want to congratulate him for the victory and I had a lot of quality things in my game and mental side to take away from the week.”

Nadal Federer
Statistics on Serve
Aces 0 12
Double Faults 3 2
1st Serve % 68% 68%
1st Serve Points Won 40/61 (66%) 46/61 (75%)
2nd Serve Points Won 18/29 (62%) 17/29 (59%)
Break Points Saved 4/7 (57%) 2/3 (67%)
Service Games Played 15 15
Statistics on Return
1st Return Points Won 15/61 (25%) 21/61 (34%)
Second Return Points Won 12/29 (41%) 11/29 (38%)
Break Points Won 1/3 (33%) 3/7 (43%)
Return Games Played 15 15
Statistics on Points
Total Service Points Won 58/90 (64%) 63/90 (70%)
Total Return Points Won 27/90 (30%) 32/90 (36%)
Total Points Won 85/180 (47%) 95/180 (53%)
Other Stats
Winners 21 44
Unforced errors 20 32
Net Approaches 6/10 (60%) 23/34 (68%)

29 Responses

  1. kellyna says:

    I actually watched the whole match and it was a much closer match than the score indicated. Rafa started off slow in the first set, but he was excellent in the second set and played the 3rd set well till the very end. He had one bad game in the third which gave Federer the lead, but Rafa was very close to winning the match.

    I thought the positives were that his confidence issues seem to be gone, he’s playing faster and making a high percentage of solid, really good shots. The commentator’s mentioned the knee and the fact that Rafa has taped it the past two days, but they said they asked Rafa about it (after yesterday’s match) and Rafa said it is just as a precaution – that he thought he felt a twinge yesterday, but that his knee held up well in the match and was feeling great today.

    So all in all I think it was a very good outcome for Rafa, especially on a indoor hard court!

  2. kate says:

    My thoughts mirror those of yours, miri. I truly don’t need to add anything with regards to the match. As to Rafa’s knee…..he has made so many greats steps forward in recent weeks, and I would hate to think that he may have sustained another injury that could possibly sideline him and cause him to regress. I am hoping that this is just a niggle (due to the amount of tennis he has played of late). Let’s keep our fingers crossed…..

  3. Aero says:

    This was a great final, I take only positives from it. It went all the way to the end and could have gone either way. This is Fed’s best environment, he is such a clinical player that a controlled environment like this suits his game. As said above Rafa had only beaten Fed once before on an indoor stage like this so I wasn’t expecting a victory just a great fight which we got. For Rafa to take this final all the way to the end of the third set against Fed at home on indoor hard is huge. It was a pleasure to see them both renew that great rivalry in a final once more. Can’t say Rafa didn’t have his chances, but great run nevertheless. Hope that taped knee isn’t too serious, on to Paris!

  4. john f says:

    I think the match with federer and the week of tennis have been fantastic for Rafa, and for Rafa fans. Great competitive tennis against a variety of player with so many different strengths (and weaknesses). This bodes well for London, and for 2016. Sooooomuch better feelings about raft’s tennis than at the beginning of the week – especially on indoor hard courts!


  5. Rob says:

    Rafa was correct in his summary. He had a great week and the final had lots of good play especially his aggressive attack to take set 2. I assumed fed would win in two given the surface and the poor year for Rafa , before the start. Sadly he made a few consecutive errors at the end of the match to get broken. He also made some errors like that in earlier matches but came back. Removing that kind of inconsistency is the key to beating top five opponents.

    Ironically when he had shoddy knees he beat most opponents including Fed. He has plenty of experience of managing his knees so hopefully he will be OK. It just shows the problems of needing a lot of match practice and having to run about as a result.

  6. Percy says:

    Although I do not all Rafa’s matches I did see 1/2 of todays match. Have always thought Rafa is better when his heavily spun groundstrokes are landing on the baseline not the service line.
    Also his serve is predictable when serving to the second court in that it swings out wide instead of coming down the middle and handcuffing the right handers with the ball swinging into the body.
    Federer has always found it difficult to beat him but a number of his winners were hit by balls landing inside the service line even though Rafa was not having to retrieve a ball

  7. mallorcanchamp says:

    I expected a straight sets victory for Federer, supported on his great serve…well, finally it was a case where his serve had to come to the rescue at the very end in a much anticipated victory for him. So I gotta be happy about this score.

    I mean Rafa did not play as good as I expected (he sure has not been at 100% these last two matches w/knee tape and lots of playing time accumulated) and he still has to work on his serve if he wants to carry the load of so many matches he’s playing again now he’s getting to SF/F, or injuries will reappear. 1-2 punch (serve/fh) has to give him a lot more free points in HC or he won’t get to the final stages of tournaments w/out being in disadvantage due to exhaustion or minor injuries.

    Btw I expect this trend of playing 3 sets to end after the indoor season. He has to dominate lower ranked players again, by beating them in straights.

    As has been a constant during all this week, Rafa started slow in every match, addapting his shots to surface conditions, then when his legs are on rhythm, takes the control of rallies and eventually gets the victory. I believe his game has improved enough to stay in play against anybody except Djokovic, for whom he’s going to need his best again (and might not be enough) (FH DTL, great serve percentage, be aggressive when its needed)

    I don’t know what to expect for Paris cause it’s been 3 consecutive tournaments with a lot of time spent on court. Maybe he needs a little break before WTF (play just 2 matches?) and see what he can improve to try to find another dimension in his game like he did after WB and also after USO.

    Knee is not concerning me, but playing too much and pay the consequences it is. Good scheduling at 30 yo becomes very important.

  8. Elizabeth Howard says:

    Miri, I hope your Charity Walk was successful. Your summary is accurate. I watched the match live and later again on record. He played so well and only small margins divided again. It is the big picture that is important , return to top form in 2016. Anything in between will be a bonus.
    I do hope that he will not do too much and take care of his body.

  9. Caprice says:

    There is no statistic on how many strokes played and distance run for each player, yet if we think about it, all things being equal, that is a vitally important statistic. Excessive play on court leads to injuries no matter what precautions you take.

    I think that is a big reason why of the Big Four, Djokovic and Federer are successful in staying injury-free, and why Rafa and Murray are the ones who struggle.

    Even though there is no statistic, it is painfully obvious in Rafa’s matches, that he always have to hit many more strokes to win a point in his service games. Incidentally, this is also one reason why he is slower to serve in between points.

    Historically, his record of injuries is testament that this kind of play has cost him dearly in terms of opportunies lost through injuries, and opportunites lost through the lengthy process of comebacks.

    Looking ahead, this style of play will also shorten his career and impact on his legacy as the new old is closer to 40 than 35.

    It was difficult to change in the past because when you are winning, you are not motivated to change anything.

    Now that he is no longer winning, he is committed to change, but it is a slow process. Rafa and team are convinced that first, he needs to get his forehand back, but in order to do that he needs to get his footwork back. BUt footwork is impacted by mental confidence, so it still comes back to confidence, although I think he is well on his way.

    That is the small picture. The big picture is, Rafa has to stay healthy. And how can he stay healthy when he has to hit so many strokes and run so much? For this, he needs to raise his level in the first 2 strokes: the serve and the return of serve, not only to achieve efficient victories, but also because of the Big Four, Rafa is the one most vulnerable to big servers.

  10. emir says:

    One of the worst final these 2 great players ever produced. Tennis quality was bad in this match. Rafa putting better show during the fall season the fight is there not looking like a total zombie on court as he looks all year but game wise he still not the player as he once was and not looking that he will be the same player as he once was again. Too many shanks and mistakes too many.

  11. JayDee50 says:

    I told myself before the match that probably Fed would win, since all the conditions favoured him. Even so, to watch Rafa lose does sting, I admit, but hey, the fact that he reached the Final at all, given that he was down in all the preceding matches and had to win them from behind gives me comfort. The fight is there, the determination has never wavered, and I keep reminding myself that this is all preparation for 2016.

    Another reminder: one year ago this week, on November 3rd to be exact, Rafa was about to go under the surgeon’s knife for his appendectomy. I’ll take Basel Finalist over that any day, and pray that Rafa’s knees and health continue to hold up.

  12. Roxitova says:

    I didn’t expect Rafa to win, given the indoor setting in Switzerland, and I actually thought he did very well, given the circumstance.
    I felt Rafa mainly outplayed Fed in the rallies, and Fed won on the strength of his serve–an ongoing obvious fact about fed that all the adoring commies like to overlook.
    Djok shuts Fed down because he shuts down the serve. Rafa could not shut down the serve–he returned OK, but still Fed was saving BPs with aces and getting through his service games with aces and unreturnables.

    One significant moment for me: After Rafa miraculously won the 2nd set, I actually felt the possibility he could win, because he had somehow gotten in Fed’s head, re-invoked the history between them. So it was 3/3 Fed’s serve, and Fed was down 0/30. This was the turning point as far as I am concerned–many closely contested matches have a single point turning point I find. Rafa had an easy FH on a slow 2nd serve and he shanked it. It all seemed downhill from there, Fed served two aces (what a surprise! not) and then Rafa somehow crumbled on his serve.
    So here’s just one point that might have made all the difference, but Rafa wasn’t clutch.
    He’s more clutch than he was earlier this season, but still not enough against the likes of Fed.

    However, i think he will beat Fed now on clay, and maybe on outdoor HC that’s not too fast, and for sure best of five. I still think Rafa can back to #2.

    Another note, not concerning Rafa, but I need to write about this: the commie drool over Fed is unbearable. I was watching the ATP commies, Jason Goodall, Chris something or other, doesn’t matter who it is for the ATP, they all do it.

    Fed misses a shot and you can hear their disapoointment, they even say “shame!” Rafa misses a shot, no comment.

    Fed hits a great shot, they wet their pants. Rafa hits a great shot, the say calming, that’s a good shot.

    They talk constantly about Fed, nonstop, and only intermittantly about Rafa. They narrate the match from the Fed P.O.V., discussing what he needs to do to win. It’s like Fed’s parents and coach are commentating.

    Just outrageous. And it’s not just against Rafa–it’s against anyone. And it’s not just when Fed is winning–they do it when Fed is being totally outplayed, Tsonga in Toronto two years ago, Djok at USO this year, Waw on clay last spring.

    Their bias i s blatant adn absurd. I can barely stand to listen to them.

    • Caprice says:

      “I felt Rafa mainly outplayed Fed in the rallies, and Fed won on the strength of his serve–an ongoing obvious fact about fed that all the adoring commies like to overlook.
      Djok shuts Fed down because he shuts down the serve. Rafa could not shut down the serve”

      Yes, I agree totally. This is so blatantly obvious for Rafa it is almost heartbreaking. Rafa really needs to improve his serve and return of serve. Rafa can rally with anyone but it is the first 2 shots that set the tone for the rest of the point.

      About the ATP commentators being biased Federer fans, thank goodness I am spared from that, but I have heard almost every Nadal fan voice the same opinion. For me, it is not a surprise because the ATP is NOT a professional well run organisation for a whole lot of other reasons.

      • Aero says:

        Djokovic shuts down everyone’s serve. As the best returner in the sport, it’s part of what makes him so difficult to beat. Fed not only won on the strength of his serve but also his aggressive net play. The only way Rafa can beat Fed is to keep him pinned behind the baseline and attack his one handed backhand. Rafa hit too many short balls (as usual) and with a weak serve allowed Fed to come in to the net far to often.

        • Caprice says:

          That is true. Djokovic is the most complete player I have ever seen. There are some shots that are largely innate talent. Return of serve is one of them.

    • CB says:

      It is a shame that the announcers are so biased. I always feel that the announcers on Tennis Channel are very even-handed, even Paul Annacone who used to coach Roger and I think is very careful to be fair. He is always quick with his praise for Rafa. For a second, after Roger won, he did seem a little excited — but that can be forgiven. :) It was a great week for Rafa and I hope he can build on his success.

  13. SammyT says:

    The match was closer than I thought it was going to be. Nadal is steadily improving and if he can push Fed that close on his worst surface (and probably Fed’s best), then it’s good news for us his fans. I mean, even when he was at his best, Nadal always struggled against Fed on indoor hardcourts, so to play a tight match like this when he’s not close to his best is a positive sign despite the loss.

    We’ll see how Paris pans out, but I’m cautiously optimistic that Nadal may be finally finding his way out of his year-long slump.


  14. Tina says:

    Great to see Rafa and Roger play together- or against – each other again, I have really missed that matchup. Somehow it just feels so special these days, when the two of them finally meet – and this time in a final.
    Would have loved Rafa to be the winner, but runner up is great for him, as he played better and better during the week. What battles and comebacks from him!! Just hope his knee is okay *sigh*, the guy has had enough health problems, so please, Tennis Gods, don´t let this be another setback for our champ. VAMOS.

  15. Einstein14 says:

    Hi everyone, these are the issues which Rafa still has to work on.

    The same issues which would have already been addressed and resolved, if Rafa had had a real coach on his side.

    1) His Serve

    2) His Court-Positioning ( his defensive, way behind the Base-Line Court-Positioning gives the likes of that annoying Lucas Rosol Boy the chance to dominate with Serve and at the same time diminishes Rafa’s own Return Capabilities ).

    3) His default Back and Fore-Hand Cross-Court Mode. Most players anticipate these shots now and just wait for it. This can hurt Rafa especially if the opponent is a good Two-Hander like Novak, Fognini, Cilic… Nishikori…. He definitely has to vary more often now.

    4) His lack of confidence to go for his deadliest of all shots, namely Rafa Forhand Long-Line or Inside-Out more often. Unfortunately, he stops going for them if he fails to execute successfully, and this is a huge mistake which he has been making for some 20 months now. Again, this is because he does not have a Coach ( i mean a real coach with brains and Tennis knowledge ).

    Having seen Rafa’s performance in China and Basel, i would say, YES, our Champ is on the RISE.

    Fazit: Rafa at %80 – %85.

    • Caprice says:

      Yes, I agree that Rafa totally needs a proper serve and return of serve. These are the 2 most glaring weakness in his game. He was trained, as a boy, to become a clay court player, not a complete player, and that is why serve and return of serve were overlooked in his early training. It is to his credit that despite this, he has had so much success on non-clay courts.

      However I do not agree that he must stand close to baseline to receive first serve. His return of serve is simply not good enough to return first serve close to baseline. He had been standing close to baseline since USO but has had varying success. In Dimitrov match, he started to stand further away and had better success.

      Yes, he is definitely on the rise, and will have a much better 2016. He will be as good as anyone else except Djokovic. Djokovic under Boris Becker, has made 2 visible improvements: his serve, and much more significantly (and ominous for Rafa) his mental strength.

      • miri says:

        His return of serve is so horrid that he’s got the 3rd highest percentage of 1st serve return points won. (Third if you limit that to this year.)

        His return of serve is so horrid that he’s got the 4th highest percentage of 2nd serve return points won. (He does drop to 6th if you limit to this year.)

        His return of serve is so horrid that he’s got the 2nd highest percentage of return games won. (He’s third when you limit that to this year.)

        His return is so horrid, that he’s got the 2ndh highest break point conversion rate. (He does drop to 10 when you limit to this year.)

        Return of serve doesn’t have to be a winner to be good. It doesn’t even have to be pretty to be good. It just has to set up the rest of the point.
        Rafa’s return of serve often looks weak, but if it sucks so much, why is he so high on those lists? Wouldn’t he be too far out of the point to have a chance to win it?

        • Caprice says:

          Let me repeat: as a boy Rafa was trained as a clay court player; hence serve and return of serve were overlooked. Why? Because on clay serve and return of serve do not matter. That is why Pete Sampras never won Roland Garros. That is why the servebots never get anywhere on clay.

          As for the figures you so diligently quoted, is any of that a surprise for anyone given Rafa’s record on clay?

          Let me repeat again: serve and return of serve do not matter on clay. Therefore, and especially in Rafa’s case, those figures are irrelevant. They are only relevant on hard, indoor hard and especially grass.

          Now, if you really want to know how much Rafa’s serve and return of serve has really hurt him, go and re-quote those figures on any surface other than clay. Then we can talk.

          • miri says:

            Hard only:

            Return games won, #12 (5th if you are just counting current tour players).
            Break points converted: #21 (4th for current guys)
            1st return points won: #15 (5th)
            2nd return points won: #8 (4th)

            And I don’t agree about returns of serve on clay. Clay is about getting the upper-hand in a rally – that makes the return of serve important.

            • Caprice says:

              Grass: Federer 5, Murray 14, Djokovic 15, Rafa 83
              Hard: Murray 1, Djokovic 4, Federer 12, Rafa 15
              Clay: Rafa 1, Murray 8, Djokovic 22, Federer 41

              The above career statistics on 1st return points won tells a story: Return points won is not a good measure of return of serve.

              Rafa’s return of serve is the main reason why he is vulnerable against big servers. Murray is also a defensive player like Rafa, but he has no such vulnerability; Murray returns aggressively. Ferrer is also a defensive player, and again he has no such vulnerability.

              Case in point: Dustin Brown at Wimbledon, who cannot do anything but serve. Dustin was able to volley so well because Rafa returned poorly. One cannot imagine a similar thing happening to any other top 10 player.

              Rafa is electing to serve first because he knows he has a weak return of serve on a fast low bouncing surface. He is trying to develop a new and better return of serve, and is trying to serve close to the baseline to avoid the acute angles. But halfway through a match when the strategy fails he changes tactics and stands further away. Unlike the other Big 4, his return of serve is a work in progress as it should be.

              • harry houdini says:

                I think rafa saw good returns in the cilic match by standing close to the baseline to return the second serve. Imo cilic panicked a little and made some double faults when he saw nadal’s position.

                On faster courts nadal reacts a little too late to first serves and gets aced more than say murray. Imo he picks up the ball too late compared to the best returners. In his prime federer was probably the best at blocking back huge serves on fast surfaces, both at wimbledon and the US open.

                I think rafa might continue trying to stay closer to the baseline on fast hard courts even on 1st serves, at least to start off matches. He can no longer defend a weak first serve return from far behind the baseline on the faster surfaces.

                • Caprice says:

                  That was the feeling I got too, that Cilic panicked a little. Rafa standing meters behind the baseline does give the opponent more peace of mind. Certainly it gives the serve and volley players lots of time to line up their winning shot at the net.

                  Rafa is trying so hard to stand close to baseline to receive first serve but for him it does not work a lot of times. He is too slow and returns weak powder puff floaters, but I am sure he will improve. Let’s see how he returns against the Rosol serve in Paris.

  16. Susanna728 says:

    I’m thrilled with where Rafa is right now. I think there’s a tendency to over-analyze all his losses. I mean, he didn’t win every match he played before. He’s gonna lose just like every other player (except Djokovic these days :)) But because of what’s happened this year, every loss takes on a larger significance than maybe it should. I thought he played really well yesterday considering it was an indoor hard court and he looked calm. The match was very close. Rafa could have won it – I guess that’s the disappointing part. But at the end of the third set Fed cleaned up his errors and was hitting big serves. Rafa didn’t have the answers…. On the coach issue, I don’t think Rafa needs anyone to teach him technical stuff. But I know from personal experience that the right teacher or coach can take something you already know and present it in a new way that just clicks and suddenly you see a better way to do it. That’s what I think Rafa could use – if such a person exists.

  17. harry houdini says:

    Reminded me a lot of their 2013 cinci match. Rafa was just one good 2nd serve return away from taking this in the third set. We need to see him a few more times vs. nishikori/murray type and level players.

  18. jodiecate says:

    So happy with Rafa’s play in this tournament! Fantastic to see him winning the three-setters again – you know, losing the first set but fighting back.

    Before the tourney, i really doubted that Rafa would be able to make it to the final. So that’s fantastic that he did. Then i thought in the final, with Roger playing so well that he would beat Rafa in straight sets – so that he won a set is amazingly good.

    Rafa was playing full-flight Roger on that guy’s best surface and in his own back-yard. I’m very happy with a final and a set. And i think how well Rafa played in Basel bodes well for his chances in Bercy. OF COURSE concerned about the knee-taping. But it’s sport – these things happen. Will be interesting to see if he has it taped from the beginning in Paris.