Utimately, Nadal is just too good at Roland Garros. Over the course of the match it was hard finding the right moments to actually be aggressive -- for me, I either undercooked my aggression, or overcooked it to the point where I got passed easily. But even if I did have that fine line of aggression, as usual this bull from Majorca just comes up with the most ridiculous passing shots when he is pinned down far behind the baseline. It was also extremely hard to keep up against him during baseline rallies because he stepped in the baseline so well, sometimes even right from when the first ball was played. I had some good chances in this match but sometimes poor decision making and just unbelievably good play from Rafa in the important moments really gave me fits and those important moments decided the match in most instances. Final score; 7-5, 7-6(7), 6-7(4), 6-4. But despite my final loss at RG, I think it’s one of the best matches I’ve played on clay. So here’s how the match was won by Rafa.
Set 1 -- Nadal 7-5: I was denoted to serve first to kick start the match. I was nervous and fell down *15-40 with passive play, and I was subsequently broken to 30. Trailing at 3-4* with *30-40 on Rafa’s serve, we played a magnificent rally that won me the point and break back for *4-4 on serve. At *5-5 and *40-AD, the pressure was too much and Rafa broke through and eventually served it out 7-5.
Set 2 -- Nadal 7-6(7): There were no breaks of serve during this set, although both of us faced break points and saved them with unbelievable shots of our own. During the tiebreak, I took a minibreak to lead **5-4, me being two serves away from levelling the match at a set all. I won my first serve point which took it to *6-4, but although missing a first serve, a 35 shot rally was played on my 2nd serve, ended with Rafa’s drop-shot that I could barely get and Rafa was at 6-5** with two serves back to him. He came up with two huge first serves, the first with an ace and the second that I could only barely touch my racquet on. I saved a set point with a delicious Serve&Volley at **6-7, but with my second serve point to come, I delivered a short second serve and got punished as I sent my running defence forehand long. With Nadal standing at 7-8**, a first serve was delivered and a 20 rally shot was played with Rafa just hitting the right corner with his forehand, and I attempted to make a squash shot to keep the ball in play, but unfortunately it floated long and the set was Nadal’s at 7-6(9-7). In summary, there were two set points I wasn’t able to covert. I was almost in tears.
Set 3 -- Harper 7-6(4): Nadal held his first service game to love, and I was forced to deuce on the 2nd game of the 3rd set. After a four minute deuce on my serve at *0-1, I finally dug deep and held serve. At 1-1*, I worked my way to 2 break point opportunities at *15-40 -- Rafa saved the first but I took the second with an aggressive return which saw me win the point with a jaw-dropping angled backhand volley. I cemented the break and went all the way to the business end of the set to *5-4. I held a set point on my serve, but I double faulted under pressure, and also double faulted again to give a break point chance to Rafa at *40-AD. After failing to deliver a first serve, I delivered a second serve which was punished by a lethal forehand down the line from Rafa, which levelled the set at 5-5*. Rafa held serve to love and I was in immediate trouble on serve, falling down *15-30 at *5-6. I drew back to *30-30 with an ace and took a gamble with two serve and volley points which won me the game to send the 3rd set to a tiebreak. Rafa opened the tiebreak with a huge first serve that put my forehand return well wide, and a short rally was played on my serve which ended in Nadal’s favour for *0-2. An ace put me back to 1-2**, but I was still down a minibreak. Nadal went on to reach 1-3* -- with one more serve to come from Rafa, a first serve was missed and a second serve was amazingly sent down the line and I clawed the mini-break back. I pulled towards 4-3** with two big first serves. I went on to take 4 TB points in a row as I chipped and charged on his next serve (a second service) and the gamble paid dividends which put me to 5-3*. At *6-4, another rally ensued but luckily for me Rafa sent a forehand volley JUST BARELY wide after attempting to send down a forehand pass. I stole the third set 7-6(7-4).
Set 4 -- Nadal 6-4: I served first to open this fourth set and went on serve until I faced a break point at *2-2 (*30-40). Rafa sent a vicious forehand return on my 1st service delivery and I managed to defend the ball back in court, but an unexpected forehand drop shot by the Spaniard sent me tripping over on court, unable to catch the drop shot at all. It went steadily all the way until Rafa served for the match at *5-4, going up *40-0 without much fuss. I managed to win a short rally to pull back for *40-15 courtesy of a Rafa backhand that floated wide. But there was no stopping the Spaniard from clinching another RG title, then sending one more big 1st serve, and ended the match with a forehand winner that just clipped the right hand corner of the baseline. Nadal won the epic match, clinching the 4th set 6-4.
Overall, it was a high quality match and it’s given me a lot of confidence playing on clay. I beat some good players on my way to the final, but it seriously feels like Rafa is just in a league of his own, especially on clay. A superb match and I have no regrets.
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