Nadal Cruises, Raonic Looks Lost in AO QF

Nadal is Back

Here’s what I wrote yesterday, previewing last night’s QF between Nadal and Raonic:

“The big question is what happens in the Raonic v Nadal match tonight. Raonic should win that match. Nadal, physically, doesn’t have enough to go deep with a big serve and hitter like Raonic. I am not even crazy about Raonic’s overall game, but he made the SF last year and so long as he’s rafael-nadalhealthy, he should dispose of the Spaniard. He even beat Nadal a couple of weeks ago in Brisbane, in 3 sets mind you, but still. Raonic is 2-2 H2H vs. Nadal in their last four meetings (Nadal is 6-2 overall). In the end, if Raonic can keep his body intact, he should advance.

But the witchery of Nadal could rear its ugly head in this last QF match. . . .

Don’t fool yourself into thinking this is Raonic in a steamroller. This one, as long as Raonic is healthy, is all mental. He has to put-up with the idiosyncratic Nadal on a huge stage where Nadal has support and momentum. Nadal, like most of these guys, is feeling pretty excited about the chance to steal a major with #1 and #2 gone fishing. How much does the Moya factor play into this? Should not. Raonic needs to S&V and hit those little pink lifts Rafa calls shoes off the court.

But we can expect some complication in that endeavor.”

I think everyone agrees with me that Raonic, hovering around #3 in the world, should have beaten Nadal last night. This had to be part of any preview of such a match. He had beaten him in Brisbane, and in Indian Wells in 2015, so the trend should’ve continued, especially when you consider the trajectory, supposedly, of each man’s career.

But in the above excerpt you can hear me hedging, talking about the caution one should have in picking the Canadian. Nadal’s witch-craft, indeed, reared its ugly head. How you ask? Some of this is just Rafa, his OCD, his competitive insanity. And some of this is the Moya factor. We do not know exactly what their game plan was against the large, awkward Raonic. But anyone watching could see how much Nadal’s court positioning during Raonic’s serve affected Milos.

Nadal was inside the baseline on first serves, blocking 135 mph missiles back in play (keeping the ball in play remained one of the Spaniard’s critical strategies). He’d drift deeper during second serves. This change in Nadal’s positioning flustered the Canadian. Nadal got in Milos’ head early and often. This had to be Moya, another voice in his camp that people have been wanting Nadal to invite for years. Not only was Carlos a new voice, but he was Raonic’s coach last year! There was even talk last night on the broadcast that suggested Carlos had told Raonic he didn’t want to travel as much, wanted a smaller role or none at all, only to turn-around and begin working full-time with Nadal. This might have upset the Canadian? He spent parts of this match yelling at Krajicek, his new coach. This wasn’t a pretty picture, at all.

Either way, Nadal’s team had Raonic’s number.

Indeed, I showed some hesitancy in my post toward Raonic, sensing a Nadal uprising, but as the match drew nigh, I got more and more certain Nadal would win this match. As Nadal then proceeded to easily seal the victory (sure the second set had some tension, but even if Raonic had broken, I didn’t see him winning the match), I thought, who will beat this guy, this machine who puts every ounce of himself into every point?

I mentioned yesterday that a factor would be “Nadal’s deliberate, violation-ridden, snail-paced tennis routine [that] could probably bore the heavens into submission.” This is part of his witchcraft. In last night’s match, Nadal did receive a warning for too much time on a critical serve at either BP or 30-30; it was a huge point and Nadal sucked all of the air out of the place (per usual) and was successful on that pivotal point (despite receiving the violation). A guy like Federer would have seemingly rushed the serve and perhaps dropped the point. Johnny Mac said Raonic should have backed-off and made Nadal begin again his routine with this violation in tow. The Spaniard continued, uninterrupted (other than the umpire’s inconsequential reprimand) and delivered the critical blow, going on to hold serve in a very tight first set.

We can criticize Rafa for many things, but one thing remains: he is one of the hardest charging, most deliberate and determined players, with a seemingly flawless style of execution under the big lights. Most players blink or wilt under the pressure of the moment and this Spanish opponent. He seems to have that intensity back and just enough on those ground strokes to get this done. Not to mention his play at the net is very underrated.

I think Nadal will be tough to beat at this point. I have seen this too many times.

His form has been garbage for about two years. There is no mistake in saying this. He has been very flawed and beatable even in this tournament. But a teenager, a loony Frenchman and an unproven 6’6″ Canadian guy who’s more at home in his “lost generation” than he is in a grand slam winner’s circle is the kind of draw, apparently, to get the Spaniard where he needs to be psychologically and physically.

He looks capable of going five the hard way, if need be. Moya’s presence seems a clear advantage, as well. Again, this guy is so efficient right now. I was pretty much watching what seemed like younger Nadal and this has to put a bit of a scare into the other three remaining players.

The Semi-finals

SF 1: Federer is the favorite because of the history and their relationship. But Roger has to play brilliantly. Does he have the strength to hit with Stan or Rafa for that matter?  The longer this match goes, the more it favors Stan. I’m giving the nod to the Stanimal.

SF 2: Nadal seems to be expanding as we speak. How much is this the 30 year-old Rafa? How much of this is the legend of Rafa? He seems destined for the final because of his experience, histrionics and the infusion of coaching and bit of fortune in the draw.

stan_aoAt the same time, I’m hoping, for the sake of our enjoyment, we see Dimitrov go to that next level. Nadal in straights or even four sets would be anti-climactic. Dimitrov might have regained some of that form and confidence against Goffin, but he’s in a major SF, so this is a tall order.

A Stan v Rafa final is probably the case.

I will add: Roger out dueling Stan only to get demoralized by Nadal in the final would be too predictable and diminish the quality of this major. We wanted surprise and dramatics in Melbourne. We have gotten plenty of that so far. Think of the irony of Nadal beating Federer in the final.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. . .

6 thoughts on “Nadal Cruises, Raonic Looks Lost in AO QF

  1. The more I think about it the more I realise that if Nadal came in a wheelchair he would still beat Federer 4 out of 5 times. A Fedal final would most likely favor Nadal, so the Grandmaster must bow out in the SF so Stan can protect the holy grail of the double career Slam from Nadal’s grasp?

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    • I’m not a big career slam honk. It’s a new development where the surfaces homogenized, the freak Federer ruined the sport, etc.

      I will probably write about that tonight to put that to sleep, but if Nadal wins and gets his 15th (plus the double), it’s monstrous. He’s a beast.

      He’s the favorite right now, according to the bookies. But the other three have been playing better tennis (at least until the QF). Nadal appears to be peaking and something tells me that Moya has been a great addition.

      The mental game is so key. I wish I could be in Grigor’s box – he has to stay upright! These guys that let Nadal establish momentum, give away easy points, choke, etc., it’s all so mental with Nadal.

      Stan seems to have the best chance, but I think Dimitrov and Federer can threaten Rafa, too. Based on passed experience, and the bookies’ futures, Nadal seems a favorite.

      But there’s still tennis to be played. Tonight should be very interesting.

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      • Damn what just happened in that first SF? Federer cruising in the first two sets, then a medical time out for Stan, bam! Stanimal! Then Federer says “screw you I’ll take a medical time out too, and then Stan implodes in the fifth set?

        And I like Federer’s honesty when asked what if Nadal is waiting on the other side of the net on Sunday. Granted Federer has an extra rest day until the final, but is the Fedal final not somehow destined? A last epic battle between two legends of the sport? Could it become the reverse AO2009 with Nadal weeping instead as Federer holds firmly on to his 18th Slam trophy?

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  2. Weird things happened in SF…Roger won finally regardless getting into 5th set…Just as you pointed out I had only very little hope he can turn around things after what happened in end of fourth…. Third set is blow out…I don’t think its co-incidence that both Roger and Stan got broken in 4th and 5th respectively after missed BP opportunities in previous game… Really hard to describe the quality……Likely Roger’s mind wandered about possible final after second set and blink of eye it went to 5th….

    Also agreed on not honking, it would be so disappointed to see if Roger gave away this, Win or Loss he made into final to take another shot…he gets respect for that resilience regardless how bad he could turn out to be against Rafa…At-least he says he believes in his chance…Let’s see…

    Now knowing other Finalist, Rafa likely to have extra motivation to get there in addition to possibility of getting into final after almost 3 years…. Hope Grigor has some thing to say regardless what we believe as likely to happen…

    And not to forget Venus and Serena… Just as Rog vs Rafa likely Serena is big fav. there but I personally wish Venus could do this…

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    • Nambi, it was a classic. I need to watch the end, again. It was past 3am and I was nodding off, but what a dramatic turn of events.
      I think Grigor will be quite motivated. I will explore that match a bit later.

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  3. Caligula, I’m drunk on this AO intoxication the tennis gods are serving-up. I give-up.
    Going five should have favored Stan.

    None of this adds up. Which leads me to believe that Nadal then gets beat by Dimitrov. Ha ha.
    Seriously, this is a wilid tournament.

    If Roger comes off the rails in the final, especially against Nadal, this will be a pretty bleak experience for the Fedhead.
    He has played three, even four tough opponents including the dangerous S&zvereV in the QF. Can he play another great match?

    Hopefully tonight is a classic, as well. I will write a short post later.
    These late nights are killing me.

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