Saturday, 31 December 2011
I missed the start of the match but from what I saw in the first set Rafa was looking rather good, Roger less so. The second set was certainly more of a contest but Rafa managed to hold on for the win.
One point made during the commentary from Sky Sports was Rafa's racquet. Here is a quote from Sport360.com:
Nadal fine-tunes his game ahead of the first Slam of the season Down Under he has revealed he has made a small adjustment to his racquet for the new season, adding slighly extra weight at the top, in a bid to generate more power.
While the 10-time Grand Slam winner was quick to stress the minor amendment was not a knee-kerk reaction to his batterings at the hands of Djokovic in 2011, he did concede that the change could help him in readdressing the balance of power in the men's game.
“It’s a change that I consider will help me in the future but not immediately," said Nadal in the UAE capital.
"Every change at the beginning is something new, and you go a little bit down before you go up.
“We are trying to have a little bit more power with the racquet. Trying to find a little bit more winners. We believe that can help but when you are able just to practice for five, six days, that’s not enough."
It will be interested to see how the racquet plays in a competitive match. Another comment Rafa gave in the post match on court interview was that next week in Doha it will be "practice". Seems a sensible decision as the main aim is Melbourne.
A few photos from today:
Friday, 30 December 2011
What the **** was happening. 0-5 in the first set. 0-4 in the second set.
Oh Rafa :-( The positive sides were that no sign of the shoulder problems was mentioned and he has avoided finishing the year with a match against Novak. I was joking that was the reason for the defeat. He saw how Nole battered Roger and thought "nah, no more of that for me thank you very much".
So he will play Roger tomorrow at 11am UK time for the 3rd place spot. I hope this match is better than the one at the O2 recently.
Some match highlights:
A lot at stake for Nadal in 2012
Next year will be a crucial year for the Spaniard after having lost so much in 2011: his number one ranking, his US Open and Wimbledon titles, and his domination on clay after defeats both in Madrid and Rome.
But beyond the fact that tables were turning, Nadal was forced to accept that another guy was better than him. This year, there was a player who could really hurt him: Novak Djokovic. The process of accepting that was painful.
A flawless rising
In order to understand better how Rafa feels, we need to look back and realise how outstanding his rise was. Not only did the Spaniard win everything, he never stopped moving forward. Not a single player posed much of an issue for him in the past and whenever he did lose, he usually found a solution to gain revenge the next time they met.
His main goal was to win the French Open. Once that was achieved, he decided to focus on Wimbledon, a tournament deemed to be the most complicated for him regarding his technique and style of game. So Rafa changed his technique and after reaching the final two years in succession, he finally won the title. Losing has always been the exception for him…
The Djokovic issue
… until this terrible losing streak against Novak Djokovic. The Serbian - full of confidence following his Davis Cup triumph and in possession of a perfect game plan that targets Rafa's flaws — crushed Nadal six times in a row in finals: Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid, Rome, Wimbledon and the US Open.
Nadal lost some of the length on his shots and Djokovic knows how to play inside the court, how to take the ball early in order to avoid being upset by the topspin of the Spaniard. When this happens, Rafa struggles on his forehand with flat and long shots. Every time Nole attacks this side, forcing Nadal to play shorter to then dictate the point. The Majorcan hates being stuck on his diagonal backhand, because he prefers dictating with his forehand while turning around his backhand. But the Serbian, with his forehand, which uses topspin and can take Rafa out of the court, is able to keep Rafa on his backhand. Then he's searching for all the shorter balls in order to attack. Finally, Rafa's second serve is often lacking in length and weight so Novak knows how to take advantage of it in order to take control of the point.
Djoko perfectly studied Rafa's game and now knows in advance the sequences he likes. That's how he knows each time how to counter punch him, by anticipating some rather stereotyped tactical options.
His mind is hurt
Beyond those results, Rafa sometimes even looked like he was resigned to defeat. He wasn't able to find a solution, whether it was on hard courts, grass, or even on clay. And those failures attacked his mind, even though that has been the basis of his game and one of the weapons that explains his success. Even he admitted "he didn't believe enough against Djokovic".
So, after winning the technical and tactical fight, the Serbian also claimed Rafa's mind. Those losses and their consequences on his state of mind lead to more defeats in the second part of the season.
Rafa has won everything. He has always found solutions in order to win the fights he really cares about. Rafa has always got what he wants in his sport. What's happening now is totally new and traumatic for him. The Majorcan has never known losing, especially not repeated failures to the same opponent.
How he could come back to the top
Will Rafa be able to return to his best level? That's an understandable question to ask. His first goal will be to get the desire, the motivation and the passion back. It's mandatory if he wants to win Majors again. Then, a huge challenge awaits him: he'll have to find a solution against Novak Djokovic. And in order to do that, he'll have to improve in some key areas:
- The serve. Even if it has already improved, Rafa's serve remains something he has to get stronger on. His percentage of points won on his first serve isn't enough with 71 per cent during the year. Against someone as good as returning as Djokovic, this percentage decreases and the Spaniard struggles. To improve on this, he will also have to work on his rhythm and on how to play with a looser wrist so he can speed up the whip.
- The backhand. Even if this shot has also improved, it's still too fragile and Novak is using the diagonal in order to boss points. Rafa will have to be better set on the ground and better transfer his bodyweight.
- Ball length/ball directions. The Spaniard must at all cost find more length of striking. If he fails, he will be exposed to the aggression of a player like Djokovic. In order to get this required length, he has to play with more margin regarding the net. Beyond the advantage it offers length-wise, it is also a good way to slow down the game in front of such a fierce counter-puncher like Djokovic. It's better to slow it down than to speed it up because Djokovic loves speed and can create an even faster point.
- Tactics. Nadal's game is relatively stereotyped. He's often predictable, but his sequences are so efficient that it's never easy to counter them. So now, Rafa's challenge is to use his forehand in the most efficient way, and it'd be even better by turning around his backhand. On this position on the court that he loves, it's very rare for him not to end with a winner because he can touch all zones. So he'll have to tactically find how to get in this position most of the time.
- Mentality. Rafa needs to approach his battles with the Serbian differently. If he has the right game plan it could help him to be more daring and to believe more in his chances.
As far as I'm concerned, this year will be decisive for the Majorcan. If his motivation level remains lower than during the previous years, due to the losing situation he's seems stuck in, then he'll be in real danger. His game relies on his mind. Rafa needs to find, and fast, the path back to victory. He knows it, he wants it. But will he be able to do it?
Thursday, 29 December 2011
Rafa, what are you doing? You already have a warm up tournament for The Australian Open (Doha). If the shoulder is so bad that you feel the need to take a month off now, in DECEMBER then why oh why are you here.
It makes it very difficult to listen to his argument about the schedule when situations like this arise. It is also very frustrating to see him go onto court with the whole world knowing he is not 100%. I feel he is setting himself up for another fall. He will be playing "catch-up" with his body even before the season has started.
Silly Rafa! Here is a news report on the issue:
Wednesday, 28 December 2011
The draw has been made and he is due to play the winner of Ferrer v Tsonga which will be the first match played tomorrow, 15.00 local time, 11.00 UK time. The other Round Robin match will be between Djokovic & Monfils. The winner of that match will play Federer.
Full tournament details are here
So I guess all we can do now is sit back and see what happens here and next week in Doha. I believe 2012 is going to be vital for Rafa. He needs to be picking up the winner trophy a lot more and on surfaces other than clay. No matter what happens it is sure to be another roller coaster ride so strap yourselves in tight!
Saturday, 17 December 2011
I know training has already started but don't worry, when play gets under way again I'll be here to bring you all the news.
Until then I hope you all have a Merry Christmas.
Sunday, 4 December 2011
Once all the celebrations are over hopefully Rafa will get back to Mallorca, enjoy himself with his friends & family then start to prepare for 2012.
Saturday, 3 December 2011
Friday, 2 December 2011
6-1 6-1 6-2 gives me the impression that Rafa has blown away his London blues and is fired up for this tournament.
Photos / videos / presser will be added later tonight when I get back home.
Thursday, 1 December 2011
The draw has been made and Rafa will start against his good friend Pico Monaco. The other tie to be played on Friday is David Ferrer v Juan Martin Del Potro.
Saturday is Doubles day with Feli Lopez and Fernando Verdasco taking on David Nalbandian and Eduardo Schwank. Sunday is reverse Singles.
Remember should the tie be over by the end of play on Saturday then Sunday's Singles matches will be Best of 3 sets.