AO: Over and out

Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

From the moment that the draw was announced the tennis world collectively had flashbacks to the last time that Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco met at the Australian Open. Their semi-final match in 2009 was 5 hours and 14 minutes of brutal athleticism and extraordinary shot making that led to repeated standing ovations from a full house in awe of the quality of tennis on display.

Fast forward seven years and we were treated to an entirely different dynamic between the two Davis Cup compatriots. Coming into this match Verdasco had beaten Nadal 2 of the last 3 times that they played. The match started with a couple solid holds. It was clear that they wouldn’t reach the lofty heights of their 2009 epic. Verdasco’s forehand cross court was working very well for him and Rafa was missing his forehand quite a bit. The first set went to a tiebreak and Rafa, unfortunately, double faulted at 6-6 and Verdasco took the set. As the match went on Rafa gained a little more confidence and put a little more oomph on his shots. The highlight of the match was the set point of the 2nd set, that point was the only sequence of the match that had shades of their 2009 encounter. It was an insane point.


The remainder of the match had its ebbs and flows with both men making errors and trying to keep the momentum. (At this point, Ataraxis00 had to go to bed.) Verdasco managed to force a 5th set where Rafa went up a break in the very first game. Just when you thought Rafa had control of the match, Verdasco started red-lining and broke back. He then broke Rafa in the 6th and then the final game of the match. Verdasco defeats Rafa 7-6(6), 4-6, 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-2.

Nadal Verdasco
Statistics on Serve
Aces 7 20
Double Faults 6 10
1st Serve % 64% 61%
1st Serve Points Won 75/108 (69%) 85/118 (72%)
2nd Serve Points Won 31/62 (50%) 33/74 (45%)
Break Points Saved 10/15 (67%) 10/16 (63%)
Service Games Played 25 28
Statistics on Return
1st Return Points Won 33/118 (28%) 33/108 (31%)
Second Return Points Won 41/74 (55%) 31/62 (50%)
Break Points Won 6/16 (38%) 5/15 (33%)
Return Games Played 28 25
Statistics on Points
Total Service Points Won 106/170 (62%) 118/192 (61%)
Total Return Points Won 74/192 (39%) 64/170 (38%)
Total Points Won 180/362 (50%) 182/362 (50%)
Other Stats
Winners 37 90
Unforced errors 38 91
Net Approaches 7/10 (70%) 25/27 (93%)

(It’s 2:30 AM, and I’m tired and sad. I do not guarantee the accuracy of those stats. Visit the AO site to get less sleep deprived ones.)

125 Responses

  1. emir says:

    We all know deep down that it is game over which is very sad and kind of emotional for me. A time came that you cant play the game of POLLYANNA even if you want to do it so.

    • Aero says:

      Cheer up Emir, I think he’ll be around for a while longer just not winning as much!

      • samfisher514 says:

        Cheer up Fedtard, AO 2009 isn’t gonna repeat, but it was enough to destroy Frauderer’s career once and for all! :)

  2. CC says:

    Thank you Ataraxis for staying up that late. As for the rest of you: blah, blah, blah and…blah.

    Love you, Rafa!

    *blows biiig kiss*

  3. CC says:

    …and blah.

  4. Rob says:

    Much as I love rafalito I am peeved. Most of the criticisms here are valid.

    He has adopted the habit of throwing in bad matches where his level is poor and he plays passively. Which encourages his opponent to attack him aggressively. He loses his serve and fails to fight back effectively. Before 2014 he may have lost to top players but the matches were close and the outcome uncertain as he served and moved better and when he lost his serve he returned extremely well usually pummelling them with the forehand and breaking back by forcing them to run and attempt hard shots. He is just not putting his opponent under pressure and forcing them to beat him. He is waiting like a frightened dear for them to make errors and that will not cut the mustard.

    Federer I notice always puts defeat down to him playing badly and resolves to not do it again while rafa seems to just say his opponent was too good. It looks like denial.

    I do not want him to retire, but do something radical and start playing like a champ. Just bashing the ball in practice is not working and he and his team need to accept that and explore every avenue. There is clearly something wrong and they are best placed to diagnose the problem; but they are running out of time.

  5. kellyna says:

    Well it’s interesting what someone else posted here quoting Rafa about ” how is tennis changing “everybody plays crazy, very aggressive going for their shots in difficult position”. And I remember when I read that interview I thought that it sounded like he was describing the way he (Rafa used to play)! I think he’s recognized that he can’t play the way he could 5 years ago, but hasn’t figure out the way he needs to play now to stay competitive.

    He definitely needs some outside help – sometimes you just someone with a completely different perspective on things, fresh ideas and the like. It’s natural that he has lost some of his speed with age and doesn’t go after every return the way he once did, especially in light of the knee issues. But that doesn’t explain why his FH is so bad and inconsistent and why his serving (which was never his strong point) has bottomed out!

    He can’t play the defensive game he once had, but he showed little to no aggressive play today and that makes me wonder whether he is still struggling to find his “new game.” He keeps saying he’s playing great in his practice sessions, but it isn’t translating to the real games. Rafa seems keen on competing and always sounds pumped on facebook when he talks about upcoming tournaments and the like. I really hope his team realizes that they need to bring in some new people with some new ideas to strengthen Rafa’s game!!!

  6. john f says:

    SO , i’ve been a Rafa fan since 2007, and a long time member of this site. The defensive , passive performance today compared to the improvements towards the end of last year both shocked and disturbed me. Yes there is my emotion yes there us rafa’s emotion. But while everyone talks of Verdasco’s 91 winners and for the similanumber in the match against Fogini…the plane fact is that almost all of those winners, and i mean most – were because of balls down the centre, ball relatively short,bad bouncing into the hitting zone of that player, ball arriving with relatively low power – everything that gives the opponent time to set up and take the power shot. 50/50 for Verdasco. Just like a practice court. And no change of game plan by Rafa. Nada. Serve, still a problem, second serve not a problem (for the opponent). It just wasn’t enjoyable tennis for me. One guy blasting the hell out of th ball, the other guy setting him up to do so.
    Sorry site members, i can’t get excited about this kind of tennis. Even after Doha it looked like it might be rafa in the top 2-4 competing well, and all the top guys unable to take it to djokovic. But after today (and the last 2 years) I don’t think so .

    • emir says:

      İt is tennis media duty to make all the players that beat Rafa and all the matches Rafa lost becasue the other guy played something historical amazing blah blah. Rafa when he is playing badly make the other players look better than they actually are. His ball land short and so easy to hit winners at and it gives the illusian that the other guy playing like an amazing stuff. The reality is he is playing so badly in some of those matches.

  7. mallorcanchamp says:

    I was watching the match point and Verdasco, as passionate as he is with his celebrations, today showed a lot of stoicism.

    You could say there’s a lot of respect between Rafa and him, but if you beat Rafa in five, in a quite competitive match (not 6-1, 6-2 sets) seeking for ’09 revenge and playing like he did on the 5th, you just go crazy and throw your racket up in the air or do something different. It’s a career defining moment. I mean he will be mainly remembered for 2009 Davis Cup and both AO matches against Rafa.

    I consider as “champion’s respect” celebrating it like crazy (not the contrary) like Rosol or many others did (w/ the exception of Soderling, that guy always acted stupid) This a clear message to Rafa also: Players declare it like a big victory, but they don’t feel like it anymore.

    One last thing, Rafa says he now practices more than ever, that he does it “with passion”.
    Maybe he’s mistaking it with “effort”? I see him fighting like always, but passion is a different concept. Passion (along with focus) is what brings your best in “crunch” moments.

    This “passion” thing is like “dark matter” for astrophysicists: you don’t see it materially, but it’s there and it’s the biggest part of the universe. So the same for Rafa’s tennis. 5th set of yesterday is where you expect focus & passion, but there was nothing.

  8. Caprice says:

    Many people are suggesting that Rafa get a new coach, that he is too stubborn etc. The way I see it, Rafa’s problem is mental. In practice and in competion, he looks like completely different players.

    In years to come, he will publish an auto biography and reveal all. In the meantime, I see a lot to suggest that Rafa has been suffering a severe anxiety disorder since AO 2014 final. The injuries he sustained through the years, the constant knee pain in 2013 and the straw that broke the camel’s back: back injury during AO 2014 final.

    I believe that what he is suffering is similar to Mardy Fish’s mental disorder, it is just crippling on court.

    That is why Rafa and his team know a change of coach will not help although I am certain he has been receiving psychologist help.

    Rafa has climbed and conquered major mountains throughout his career. This one, mental illness, is by far the biggest.

    • emir says:

      Something happened after 2014 AO final. İt is pretty clear. Even a good run at RG 2014 doesnt change the reality that Rafa no longer the same player as he once was ever since AO 2014 final.

      • samfisher514 says:

        That’s not true at all. He played very well post AO 2014. Rafael played great at RG and actually dominated Djokovic, now he can’t even win a few games against him. At Wimby he also played pretty well, Kyrgios simply outserved him and got a little lucky. Ever since than break post Wimbledon 2014 Rafael has been unrecognizable.

    • materijalmen says:

      “The way I see it, Rafa’s problem is mental” You should buy eyeglasses, right now, beause You are very blind and what is a bigger problem, naive….

  9. Susanna728 says:

    I feel mainly perplexed. I just wish I understood what was happening to Rafa. There are so many questions I would ask that don’t get asked in the press conferences. Only one journo asked a question I found interesting. He asked whether Rafa was aware of how passively he was playing during the match, or did he only realize it afterwards. I wouldn’t have asked it that way, and Rafa said of course he realized it during the match. But then why doesn’t he do something to change it during the match? Yes, Verdasco was hitting bombs but not 100% of the time. Even when Rafa was in offensive positions he hit shots short and with little angle. He says one of his main goals is to put his opponent in uncomfortable positions but he didn’t seem to be doing that at all. Rafa used to be praised for his problem solving on court. If what he was doing wasn’t working, he changed it. That doesn’t seem to happen any more. He doesn’t seem to be able to change his patterns and just keeps doing the same thing over and over. I get that he may be nervous or anxious or not confident, but why not just trying going for big shots. Things couldn’t have been much worse than they were already. Of course none (or few) or us have any idea what it’s like to be an elite athlete. But for me there are just so many unanswered questions about what’s going on in his mind while he’s playing. Basic question: Rafa, do you know what’s causing your problems and and could you explain it to us as best you can? “That’s sport” just isn’t enough of an answer any more. If he doesn’t know the answer, then he should be working on figuring that part out. I feel so bad for him but being a fan is pretty hard these days.

    • Rob says:

      We all feel upset by this situation and he must too.

    • Roxitova says:

      I feel pretty much as you do, perplexed by how he didn’t make adjustments on the court, why he kept spinning in weak 2nd serves for eg. He doesn’t seem at all like his old self–and I don’t think it’s physical–though he is not feeling his FH as he once did. Or serve.
      Even the extent to which Djok dominated him was worrying, but this more so.
      Prior to that he looked good against Murray, Waw in London. Maybe the wupping by Djok did something to his confidence yet again?

      • kellyna says:

        Well I was surprised by the way he went on after Djokovic beat him so badly in Doha about how it was impossible to beat him when he played like that, like he himself couldn’t imagine doing it? It’s like if you don’t believe you are up to the task it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even the commentators were making comments during his match with Verdasco about why was he continually placing the ball in the middle of the box, giving his opponents perfect shots to return. Rather than making any adjustments it was like he was waiting for his opponent to make mistakes – so passive and so ineffective. It is indeed baffling and I understand what Susanna says about wanting to understand what’s up with all of this and why he hasn’t been able to significantly raise his game in what seems like an awfully long time.

    • RJL says:

      You have summed up perfectly my own strange emotion over the match, which is a new one for me with Rafa … I would have said “flummoxed” but perplexed does the job just as well. I have been heartbroken by Nadal numerous times — when he played to that very edge of edges and just didn’t get the victory by a fateful centimeter here or there . And I have been disappointed by him as well — when I thought he could have played much better than he managed to in one particular moment. But this is entirely different because neither of those things is the case. It seems he is so devoutly driven to improve his game … he talks the talk, he walks the walk … yet he isn’t improving it consistently. Which is, ugh, perplexing. The serve, the short balls (yes Rafa always hit some short balls, but he also hit many deep balls back in the day!), the lack of intent in the forehand, it’s all the same as 2015 with little to hang onto (though I’m trying!) for the coming season. I am sure there are better matches to come, but it’s become so draw dependent, whereas it used to be with Rafa that you believed he could claw his way through any draw. Obviously, he wants to go on and believes things will get better and it’s impossible not to admire that. But I do wish his team would see that, smart as they may be, they might have blind spots. It disturbs me when I hear Rafa talk about how HARD he is practicing. I believe that his team also believes this is the holy grail — you work as hard as you can and the rewards come. It’s a philosophy that can pay dividends at the right times in life. But in fact, as you age, training smarter can be much more effective than training harder. At my age, I’m more and more aware of this!

  10. emir says:

    Lets be honest this massacre cant continue for a very long period,it is already nearly 2 years since he last played great tennis. He might even consider retirement after the Olympics.

  11. Cowboyal says:

    I am not upset Nadal lost.

    I am upset that he played badly.

    He played well in Doha. May be the final where he lost so badly to Djokovic even though he played well effected him a lot.

    I do not know whether the problem is physical or mental.

    I hope it is mental because at least there is a chance that can be fixed and his confidence regained. If it is a physical decline then there is no way that can be reversed.

    I like tennis very much and have been watching it for over 30 years.

    When Nadal loses so early in the tournament, I can not bring myself to watch the tennis for the next few days because I am so upset that he lost.

    In the time I have followed tennis Nadal has been by far my favourite player. He had left me with so many great memories.

    I really hope that there are still some more memories to be made.

    • Roxitova says:

      Yes, two days later and I’m still depressed about this loss. I think all hardcore Nadal fans are just praying he can get it together again.
      I will never watch another tennis player with the kind of interest and passion and devotion that i watch with Nadal.

      • TennisMenace says:

        And now Sela beats Verdasco. That’s adding insult to injury. *Sigh*

        • Cowboyal says:

          This is not unexpected.

          The reason Nadal lost is not because Verdasco ‘played the match of his life’ as so many commentators stated.

          It is simply because Nadal played so badly. And this is why I am upset.

          I could go on and on about the problems with his game and give a technical analysis (as I have done extensively in previous posts over the last several months) but I just can’t be bothered any more.

          There is something fundamentally wrong – it is either mental or physical or both.

          For all of us from the outside it is impossible to know what the problem is.

          I just hope Nadal and his team can figure it out and solve it. But so far, after 13 months, they are back to square one.

        • Aero says:

          Rafa always credits his opponent for playing “unbelievable “, however, as was already said, its not the opponent but Rafa’s poor play. Fog at the US open went on to loose his next match also against a lesser player after beating Rafa. Nadal still appears lost out there with absolutely no strategy or solutions to his game. If his opponent is giving him a decent challenge he becomes tentative and indecisive. Simply keeping the ball in play isn’t going to win any matches.

          He said in his presser that the game has become more “aggressive” with opponents “going for winners all the time”, really! a lame excuse, look at Fed and co still playing great tennis, it hasn’t bothered them. Rafa used to be the bully on court forcing others to play his game but now his the victim scared of everyone. If this is his excuse then become aggressive again and go for winners! I have never seen such a player free fall so quickly from being one of the greatest competitors of any sport to that of a mouse. I still think his battle is mental .

          • TennisMenace says:

            Since 2014 Rafa has lost 33 times. Of the 26 losses that did not take place in a final, the winner lost in the next round on 21 occasions. So only five times out of 26 defeats did the player that beat Nadal proceed to win the next match. And three of those five are Djokovic. So if we exclude Djokovic then out of 23 losses for Nadal only twice could the player back it up in the next match. How crazy is that?

      • Roxitova says:

        So predictable! Still I was surprised to Sela, thought he would make it one more round.
        Rafa slayers (except DJok) always lose the next round. I guess this is our cold comfort fact.

        Still, it feels like such a waste.

        • TennisMenace says:

          That doesn’t comfort me at all. If only one in 12 players (not counting Djoko) that beat Nadal can beat their next opponent, then what does that say about Rafa.

    • crossy says:

      I like you only watch tennis to see Nadal play. I first got interested in tennis in 2007 when I saw him play Federer in the Wimbledon final. Ever since then I was hooked. When Rafa loses I lose interest in the tournament. I’m still hurting over this latest loss. Can’t imagine how Rafa is feeling. He always seems to be the one who has the big hitting, inspired player in the first round. I actually thought he had a good draw. Just didn’t imagine Verdasco would beat him. I am sure he will find a solution to the problem he faces. He is too great a champ not to. Vamos Rafa!!!

  12. RAFAFAN1 says:

    Why are you people so damn disrespectful?? I mean, look at the guy’s records the past decade and beyond. Everyone can have an opinion, but jeezz …. . Of all top 10 players, I think Rafa is the one who is constantly under scrutiny. Of the 4 players above him in the rankings, how many titles and matches did they won??? Go have a look. I think only 1 (ONE) did better than him. Rafa is the ONE player who ALWAYS tries his best when he is on court, nobody can say the opposite EVER. If you can’t ‘stand’ the way he is ‘embarrassing’ himself at the moment, please try not to be so rude. To make personal comments (about his thinning hair for one) is just not on. Did you see Rafa EVER be rude to anyone, no NEVER EVER. I assume, because this is a Rafa fanpage, that most of the comments are coming from his fans and therefore I am really disappointed to read some of your comments. And if there were solutions for the short term, I’m sure Rafa and his team are working on it and also on the bigger picture. He don’t need armchair coaches with no clue keep on talking him down. Thank goodness he will never see all this crap people is saying about him, because I think he will just shake his head in shame because his fans are so embarrasing ………….. .
    (English is not my first language, so please excuse all mistakes.)

    • SammyT says:

      This is a Nadal fan page, not a Nadal cheerleader page; BIG DIFFERENCE! As fans, we have every right to be disappointed by his performance, especially when he’s exhibiting signs of denial about the fact that he obviously needs a drastic change in his game and/or coaching team if he wants to have a chance to keep up with the top players. We can’t reminisce about old glory forever; that’s for the records books. If he continues to play at this level, we will always feel bad about his -now- customary defeats by journeymen. He seems to be headed towards a Lleyton Hewitt-like existence on the tour, and that’s not exactly a happy prospect for his fans; I -for one- would rather he retired.

      I really do hope Nadal reads the comments here and hopefully that will make him wake up and smell the coffee. It’s not about whether or not he knows what he needs to do, of course he does. It’s about whether he’ll stop being stubborn and actually do it.

    • RafaMatters says:

      Absolutely Rafafan1! It has been a joy and privilege to watch and support Rafa for many years. For whatever reason he is struggling now and I feel sad for Rafa. I don’t understand all the criticism and talk of embarrassment. The Rafa that has given so much joy has done it his way. It’s what defines him. He will continue to struggle and succeed or retire … his way. I will continue to be a fan. Others can retire if they wish.

      • RJL says:

        To be fair, I believe that in over 100 comments on this page, only one person said he found Rafa’s performance embarrassing! And very few people even hinted that they would stop being fans. Instead people said they were sad, perplexed, searching for answers. You might stop for a moment and realize all the talk about how to reverse this trend — which is entirely different from attacking criticism — is coming from the heart in nearly all cases. The reality is that this is not a singular loss; it is part of an ongoing pattern that no one can ignore. I find it impossible to care deeply about Rafa and not care about how this situation can be better addressed. I don’t think that makes me a poor fan. On the contrary. We ALL want him to be happy and fulfill on his potential; isn’t that our common ground, even if we disagree on the approach, which is only human (and part of the interesting, conversational part of sport, something Rafa himself has talked about!)?

        • kellyna says:

          Exactly RJL – it’s because we care about Rafa that we discuss what is happening and how it might be fixed. It is not disrepectful to acknowledge that he is not playing well and wondering why his team is not doing more to change things up. Let’s face they have been working on the issues (mental – confidence etc) for a year now and the results are very mixed at best. Federer, Murray, Djokovic have all turned to people outside of their original team for advice, new ideas and ways to make them more competitive – one does have to wonder why Rafa is so resistant to the idea. Plus I couldn’t agree more about your observation of just practice HARD and everything will turn around maybe doesn’t apply at this stage of his career. I think it’s clear he needs to alter his game to adjust for age and the wear and tear on the body so perhaps the emphasis needs to be put on that instead.

      • SammyT says:

        Absolutely not RM! You’re certainly not entitled to decide how different fans react to Rafa’s continued slump. While I don’t feel “embarrassed” by his losses (I don’t take them that personal), if some other fans are, so be it. It’s their prerogative and no one else’s business. Each fan has their own perception of their chosen sports figure and they should feel free to react with disappointment, embarrassment, disgust or whatever when that sports figure doesn’t live up to their expectations without having people like you chastise them for being disrespectful!

        So put things in perspective and leave the disproportionately overprotective feeling you have towards Rafa for his mother.

    • samfisher514 says:

      Because he destroyed Frauderer’s career once and for all and people are bitter about it. :)

  13. RafaMatters says:

    Fair comment RJL but I did stop for a number of moments whilst reading the 100+ comments and still found it difficult to understand the criticism and the many demands for Rafa to retire. I am aware of the trend, since I have been following Rafa for well over 10 years. He clearly has his very set (some feel stubborn) ways and, at almost 30, is unlikely to change. Perhaps, furthermore, he feels his happiness and potential depend upon him not changing for tennis or for afterwards.

    • RJL says:

      “Perhaps, furthermore, he feels his happiness and potential depend upon him not changing for tennis or for afterwards.”

      I guess it is possible he doesn’t want to change, but that goes against the Rafa I have seen and read in interviews. That Rafa says: “The goal is to improve as a player and as a person. That, finally, is the most important thing of all.” Improvement IS change; the one does not happen without the other.

      Perhaps I misintepret him. None of us really knows him here, though we might know his game. But my only point is that the vast majority of people here are speaking out of care and concern. In the end, Rafa’s happiness is not our responsibility and he knows that as well. He is as clear on that as sports star can be. But wanting him to play the way we either believe or hope he can (I am not convinced his problems are not irreconcilably physical) is not a cruel or damning thing. It comes from a place of support, and differs by personality. I wouldn’t turn away from a friend who was struggling with something they love — but I also would try to look for ways to help them overcome that struggle. Others might handle it a different way, but that doesn’t mean they are a bad friend. That’s all I’m trying to say.

  14. RafaMatters says:

    Again, fair comments. You’re right, none of us know Rafa, other than through his tennis and perhaps a little, through his interviews but improvements can be achieved by better understanding without a change of approach.
    I have visited this site for some years to share the joy of wins and consolation on losses. Of late and especially since this loss, I just feel that many ‘friends’ appear to have turned away and their advice is to give up the struggle.
    Like you, I fear that Rafa’s problems may be due to physical issues – I hope that’s not the case for his tennis and his future generally.

  15. Susanna728 says:

    Mouratoglou’s comments make a lot of sense to me. And, to some extent, during the last part of 2015 Rafa was consistent enough and winning enough to a lot of his confidence back. There were matches in 2015 where he looked like his old self. But the worrisome part is that the confidence doesn’t seem to stick. I hope he’s doing things to address that issue besides practicing a lot. I heard that Novak is doing meditation. Meditation does wonders to relieve stress and anxiety. Maybe it would help our boy. Also — in a completely different direction — is it possible that his natural right-handedness is resurfacing and affecting his left hand? People’s bodies are still changing in their 20’s. I know – grasping at straws. I’m just trying to come up with SOMETHING :):)

  16. vivi says:

    I generally always believe that Rafa can find a way to get his form back. But watching him lose to Dolgopolov at Queen’s this summer (live) and now this. I’m losing faith. Honestly I think he should poach Becker to destabilise Djokovic and make it interesting!