If the match is on clay and it’s not in Madrid, and you draw El Toro, you’re at the mercy of Rafael Nadal.
A poignant illustration of this statement: he’s lost only twice at Roland Garros all-time, to Soderling in 2009 and Djokovic in 2015. That’s silly.
Thought experiment: What do you know about the personalities of Soderling and Djokovic? Are they congenial, pleasant, warm and friendly types? Sure, some of you will say Djokovic is a real gentleman of the sport; I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with you, but he’s shown plenty of times that he can be the classic antagonist. Just look at his career context, having to almost constantly fight to keep his head above water throughout the stormy seas of Fedal.
In other words, the only two guys to have taken Nadal out at Roland Garros happen to have a little nasty streak, would likely look to any means necessary to win against the clay GOAT.
How do you beat a bully? You stand-up to him; what scares the bull(y) is his realization that this “inferior” is willing to buck a trend, take a potentially massive risk by putting himself is harm’s way.
The Djokovic, Soderling, Tsonga, Fognini, Kyrgios type has beaten Nadal, partly, this argument goes, because they are willing to do whatever it takes to overcome the Nadal tennis aura (and ruthless gamesmanship). They’re not afraid, necessarily, of him nor of doing something that might prick and possibly pop the status-quo.
Why won’t players look to disrupt the Rafa rhythm? You’re not going to beat him, so might you try something, even for a couple of games or even a few points to see if the change or risk has any benefit? Or is that part of the fear of upsetting Nadal.
The little anecdote I mentioned in my last post about Dzumhur more or less played-out today vs. Shapovalov: the Canadian paid especially hard for his win over Nadal last year in Montreal. Sure you could say Nadal just competes no matter who is across the net; and I would call bullshit on you and link you to my blog.
I said a few days ago that Thiem would not survive the Rome QF, if he made it. All of my money would be on the Spaniard. That’s because players don’t seem to care as much as Nadal, or maybe there’s a better reason. Why walk aimlessly into the slaughter-house like that?
People have been saying for weeks and months now to serve underhand to Nadal since he’s ~20 ft behind the BL on his ROS. It’s insanity. Even my 14 year-old whose knowledge of the sport is underdeveloped said “that’s weird” when I pointed-out where Nadal stood on a ROS. It is weird.
Nadal owns the place. He stands 20 feet behind the BL so you can not in a million years penetrate his court no matter how big a serve you have. He’s laughing. He’s in the bathroom, taking a shit, waiting for your BIG serve to interrupt his nap. It’s a joke.
He also requested, allegedly, the first match on tomorrow’s slate. Of course. Can you imagine playing Fognini in Rome in the night match with all of that Italian hooliganism spitting on Nadal’s red clay? Nadal does what he pleases. Playing Fognini after breakfast is a complete advantage Nadal — AS IF HE NEEDS ONE. But that’s what no one gets. He cares. He wants to destroy you.
Which is why you have to try something to disrupt his comfort zone.
You have to bring Nadal forward. I know people have been saying this (expert opinions on watching this year’s clay campaign); but let’s say it again:
You have to bring Nadal forward.
Here’s just a quick visual reminder of Chang’s infamous underhand serve against Lendl in the 1989 French Open fourth round. Lendl, #1 in the world at the time and three-time FO winner, was obviously shaken by the Chang tatics. Lendl probably regrets not being more ruthless with the leg-cramping Chang; either way, the underhand serve was used, against a formidable foe, and the strategy helped a player advance, despite the odds.
Chang might have looked foolish (I thought so at the time to be honest), but he won!
That’s the point. Make him move, make him at least THINK about being that far behind the BL.
Why won’t players use the underhand serve vs. Nadal? Out of respect? Because it would be too humiliating? You’re going lose anyways, so at least tell him in one way or the other that he looks like a fool standing that far behind the BL.
In today’s Shapovalov v Nadal match, Denis played pretty well early, but the predator eventually tracked-down its prey and the end was gruesome. Here’s some highlights of the match.
Go to 14:25 where we see Shapovalov serving from the deuce court. He puts the serve out-wide to Rafa’s BH (remember, Nadal is already in a different country on his ROS court position); the return comes back pretty tame to which Denis employs a short drop shot in the ad court. Rafa has to sprint to get to and return the shot, and commits the rare error.
If you looked at enough of Nadal’s matches recently, players have perhaps been trying to fashion some kind of play to move Nadal forward. He’s got a great net game, but this, like the example above shows how to move him, get him coming forward, to stay in a point, setting-up a pass or a lob, or pulling a Soderling and just drilling him at the net.
Does that sound rude? Ha ha. Nadal, in all of your polite and refined sportsmanship, is killing you and eating your young. 6-1 in the second was the dismemberment of Denis. Shake-it-off, bud. You’re going to Paris. Good luck!
Before moving on, we have to mention Nadal’s serve was masterful. Putting guys out wide at all opens-up so much court for his devastating FH or that BH. Denis got absolutely schooled in that second set.
Nadal v Fognini
However, we get the Nadal v Fognini QF. Despite the fact that this is not a night match, which would have all kinds of added character and drama, Fabio could still bring some quality to this big-time match. He’s beaten Nadal on clay before, twice in-a-row in 2015 (Rio and Barcelona). They’ve had words on the court, there’s a little la hostilidad. Frankly, Fabio is one of those types that calls-out some of Nadal’s gamesmanship, the snail’s pace, the MTOs, etc. We could get a decent match tomorrow because of this history, this character clash.
Djokovic v Nishikori
We get another potential gem in that second quarter between Nishikori and Djokovic. I probably could have written a decent post on that first set of the Djokovic/Ramos match. I know a lot of people have been saying this same thing, but if you watched the match, you know (if you know): that was near vintage Novak. The pace and depth on his ground strokes from both wings, his commitment to his shots and angles along with that world-class ROS that’s so effective in these kinds of high tension matches, bigger stakes, nerves popping: if you can break your opponent routinely, at least put so much pressure that this begins to wear on his whole game, you are in a position to fly!
Novak looked really good. Beyond the tennis, the quality of his shots, he looked more confident, had more energy, looked more comfortable. A lot of this does boil-down to small, in some cases really small, factors such as the timing on shots. Djokovic could be seen sliding perfectly out-wide, a tough get, to hit a FH that looked easy, that Ramos could only watch. The Serb is finding that rhythm.
Unfortunately, the second set got a little tighter, a lot actually. I am going to call this, consistent with my overall criticism of Novak before today’s match, a lack of big match fitness. He just had a little less on some of those shots, but I think Ramos also rose his level a bit.
Novak will have to overcome not only his own limitations and lack of confidence and form; but the confidence and belief of his opponents.
Today was a clear step-forward. Tomorrow will tell us even more. Nishikori, I did not see the match, looked to dismiss easily the German. I can’t wait to see how Novak backs-up today’s big win. He has to feel good about the tennis he played. Ted Robinson and Lindsey Davenport brought-up the question we all ask about assessing a player’s form: what’s more important here, his quality or his opponent? The opponent often matters, obviously. If Novak is playing #145 in the world, can you really get a read on his tennis?
But for Novak, searching for that confidence, that rhythm and the consistency he knows he can play, in this case the quality is most important. Ramos is a decent player, especially on clay, but the fact that Novak found that form today, no matter the opponent, will tell him a lot about his game. Hopefully he runs with it.
Cilic v Carreno Busta and Zverev v Goffin
Those other two quarters should be interesting, as well.
Cilic, one would suspect, advances although the Spaniard, though not a clay specialist, can grind. He will certainly make the Croat work.
Although Goffin has played well, put-it to Del Potro before the latter retired in the second set, Zverev looks tough. A Goffin win I would call a significant upset. Zverev was tested big-time today against the Brit who is a year perhaps away from being a real threat on tour. That was a solid match. Zverev holding-on to win in straights showed some solid maturity and grit. Likewise, Edmund is for real.
Long post. Good evening (or morning).
Thanks for reading.