Rafa Reigns, Takes Rome and No. 1 Heading into Paris.


“Reigns” — get it? Yeah, you saw my last post, no? Probably the most spot-on, articulate post of ATP matters I’ve ever written. Zverev losing the first set 6-1 (destroyed, after breaking Nadal in the opening frame), then winning 9 of the next 12 games, taking the second set 6-1 and finding an early break in the third to see, what we could all see, clear sailing, pretty much, to the finish line, really a devastating blow to the confidence of Nadal heading into Paris. No doubt that would have been pretty wild.

But then the rains came.

If anyone thought Zverev had a chance when play resumed, he or she is pretty new to this. There are certain givens. Guys like Nadal are notorious for obliterating the rhythm or momentum of a match/opponent by taking MTOs and the like for obvious reasons. They need a re-set, they need to sit with their box in the locker-room and get coached out of the mess they’re in, or they just need the other player, especially if he’s an underdog with an upset on his racket, to also take a break and think about what he’s actually doing. For instance, Zverev was DONE once play resumed; if Zverev had continued to dominate after the break, I would have been dead wrong. But I knew better; I’ve seen it happen time and again. So, if you were caught off guard by this change of direction in the match, stay with me, subscribe to my blog and I will gladly walk you through all and more of these little rings-of-fire and booby-traps, Sanskrit and other unintelligibles of the sport. It is my pleasure to provide this service. My last post, again, could not have been more spot-on. As you can see, I was beside myself with epiphanic insight and the realization that I was about to conceive of the ability of speaking in tongues.

Although up 2 sets to 1 against Novak in the 2012 French Open final, Nadal’s form began to plummet similar to today’s Rome final, having won the first two sets 4 and 3, but losing the third set 2-6 and down a break in the fourth before tournament administration acceded to his “enthusiasm” for match suspension. They returned the next day. In that match, Nadal had lost eight games in a row. The ship was sinking.

But he was able to re-set and claim another title.

Granted, Nadal puts himself in these positions to win so often, by stick or by trick. One can not criticize him for not trying, for not trying to behead his opponent and anyone else standing in the way of his march to the trophy presentation. As I have argued five billion and five times, he’s not the most talented, but he perhaps does the most with his talent. That’s more admirable in many ways than one who may waste his or her talent.

So here we are.

Nadal, in a bit of a crisis, seized the opportunity given to him. Again, whether by stick or by, sometimes heavenly trick, the guy just gets it done. Don’t they say some people find or make their own luck?

As one might have gleaned from my haiku, I felt Zverev was still available for victory in the final, despite the slim odds. I only watched the second set v Cilic but could clearly see the form of the young German was still in-tact, flying high which included last week’s title in Madrid.

What’s making him especially dangerous is his polished BH that works really well in the longer clay rallies, dependable, deep, angles, his height consolidating this BL advantage to go with that nice FH and imposing serve, even on clay. If a guy can hit 120mph and develop that net presence, which he is trying to do, he will be a real monster, especially when he’s playing guys who sit on that BL and grind. Zverev has class for sure.

This became quite clear in his SF with Cilic.

Although the Croat secured an early break in the second set after falling in that dramatic first set TB 13-15, looking pretty determined at this point to grab the second set and really test Sascha’s reserves and big match chops, watching the youngster hit Cilic pretty much into submission was impressive. The 4-seed and #4 in the world had no answers to this final surge, confirming the Zverev v Nadal final at last, one we might have seen in Madrid had Nadal handled Thiem.

All in all, a terrific Rome Masters. Hopefully Zverev isn’t peaked and unable to get on this kind of run at Roland Garros.

The French Open draw will be interesting. We know how variable these draws can be, the weight of a quarter, or a half, early odd match-ups, etc.

To be fair, Nadal had a tough draw (if there is such a thing for him on clay) in Rome. Shapovalov, Fognini, Djokovic and Zverev is not too shabby and you saw some of the things that Nadal did to compensate here and there (request an early match that upset Novak quite a bit, etc). But he won, which we expected and continue to regret a bit, only because he continues to wield such an obvious mental and physcial advantage over the rest of the field.

We’ll flush more of this out in the coming days. Zverev (with so little success at the majors, and his recent run perhaps weighing on his prospects) has shown more and more he can be trusted, given his recovery; Djokovic looks to continue to gain form and confidence; Thiem has to be a dark horse given his potential and some luck of the draw perhaps; Cilic remains relevant in some of these big tournaments (he made the QF at RG last year); Goffin, Edmund, maybe a healthy Del Potro. . .

We’ll see. Rafa needs those 2000 FO points and he almost certainly will secure them; yet we’re clearly in witness to some vulnerability from the clay king in recent weeks.

Talk to you soon.

2 thoughts on “Rafa Reigns, Takes Rome and No. 1 Heading into Paris.

  1. dlima1987

    Good stuff Matt.

    Zverev was really taking it to Rafa, that BH being instrumental and essentially neutralizing the spaniard’s wicked FH

    But we all knew with or without rain Rafa was not going down without a fight.

    The fact remains that, with the exception of prime Djokovic, once Rafa finds his rythm on clay no one has been able to stop him.

    Zverev, if he gets past his major nerves, is a clear candidate for the RG title – but he needs to sail through the first few rounds to build his confidence.

    Finally, a word for Delpo – his clay season has been non-existant so far, I doubt he will be able to have any significant impact in RG


    1. Rafa will always fight, but you and I know he was in a bit of a tailspin at that point.

      The truth of Djokovic’s ability to beat Nadal on clay has a lot to do with that BH, which Zverev can emulate, neutralizing the Nadal FH. Sascha could prove to be a real clay opponent on the bigger stage.

      And I think you’re right about him needing to get through those early rounds. A deep run from Sascha would be a big boost to the RG competition. I’ll reserve some energy for that until I see him get to, say, a R16 and advance in that Bo5 format. He’s not proven that yet.

      Thiem and Djokovic, for me, seem the only other guys (initially) on the radar. But you never know. Rafa looks a little more human and a certain match-up, etc., could make things interesting.

      Del Potro looks poor so far and probably injured even.

      Maybe we have some NextGen movement like we did at AO. Edmund backed-up his AO SF run with some decent tennis this spring, especially on clay. Chung, who’s hopefully fit, seems to fit with the clay court tennis rigor. Those two hopefully bring some youthful violence to RG.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.


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