Friday, 24 January 2014

Men's Semi Final 2 - Nadal v Federer

Stanislas Wawrinka would face the winner of the second semi final to be played on the second Friday night of the 2014 Aus Open.  For the 33rd time Rafa Nadal would face Roger Federer, and if history had everything to do with the result, Rafa would have to feel confident, holding a 22-10 head to head record.  However, everybody has been pumping up the revival of Federer at this tournament ad nauseum.  It is true that he has played well throughout the tournament and his win over Murray was especially good considering his opposition.  I don't agree with the widely held view that his win over Tsonga was the greatest thing since sliced bread - his opposition was below par and Roger is the best at destroying slightly below par performers.
Not enough has been made of Nadal's progress compared with Federer.  Only his win over Monfils rated the oohs and aahs that accompany every shot Roger hits.  The opposition of Nishikori and Dimitrov was difficult to overcome but was done in the way a number one seed should be expected to execute.
On balance, the head to head record, recent playing performance and night conditions have me selecting Nadal to defeat Federer in a tight, enthralling contest.

Federer served first, which was probably appropriate considering this was the 10th anniversary of his first title win here.
Game one featured two shots long by Rafa, one unforced. A return wide and one that dropped in had us at 40-15. Another misjudged return long gave Federer a gentle hold for 1-0.
Backhand long by Roger followed by one into the net and a forced return long and a second one in the net equalled a love game for Rafa and 1-1
Federer's forcing backhand produced an error which was replicated by one of Roger's own forehands long. Rafa erred on return before collaring Roger with a forehand pass then Roger was smooth along the line with an off forehand.  Good hands at the net sealed another game for Roger and he led 2-1

The opening was predominantly errors until midway into the third game when both players seemed to switch on and the shots of excellence arrived.

Again Roger was neat at the net controlling the opening point then he surprised with a backhand pass which Rafa could not control.  Rafa did monitor the next backhand down the line for a winner and Roger hit his backhand long for 30-30 Game point for Rafa when Roger netted a forehand, and this was belted into submission with a forehand smashed by Roger harder than he has hit anything before.  A Federer shot pushed wide followed by a forehand neatly positioned in the corner by Nadal and the games were 2-2
First long then net twice by Nadal and Federer had 40-0.  A hard hit forehand return missed the line and Roger led 3-2.  Already this semi final was moving quicker than the one the day before.  No obvious trend yet.  No serve volley tactic from Federer.
Two backhand return misses and two other shots out of court by Federer gave Nadal his third game.
Nadal starred with a backhand return cross court winner followed by a forehand down the line bringing up two break points which were saved with errors from Nadal.  An ace gave Federer his second game point which he had converted by a Nadal mishit.  4-3 to Federer who dodged the first bullet.
Federer was not reading the serve of Nadal all that consistently, and gave up the first two points of the next game with cheap errors.  At 40-15 a searching rally was concluded with a Federer off forehand down the line for a winner.  Then the best rally of the match ended with a fabulous forehand winner from Nadal and it was 4-4.

A double fault and a netted backhand had Federer at 15-30 on serve before an ace steadied him.  Then a baseline rally ended in Roger's side of the net again for break point.  A forehand forcing the Nadal shot long brought about deuce and another one long gave Roger game point.  Federer held for 5-4 and another hairy moment was survived.  Rafa had to hold to stay in the set.
Two good serves produced errant returns before Rafa netted a backhand. 30-15.
30-30 with a rare unforced forehand error long from Nadal.  Roger let him off the hook hitting one long in turn.  A beautifully placed ace won the game and it was 5-5.
A drop shot finished off with a backhand volley winner took Federer to 30-0.  Even the error at 40-0 could not contain him as he aced Nadal to lead 6-5.

The longest rally of the match finished with a Federer netted backhand.  A much shorter exchange ended the same way.  30-0.  A wild forehand from Federer was destined for Rosebud, but two mistakes from Nadal tightened things at 40-30.  Another long one rom Federer guaranteed the tiebreak with Roger to serve the first point.
A Federer backhand caught the net and flew out giving the first point to Nadal but the mini break was given back with a Rafa shot wide.  Roger joined the wide of the mark club and it was 2-1 Nadal.
On one of his few ventures to the net, Federer fluffed his shot, then netted a forehand to give Nadal 4-1.  Again the net, this time off Roger's backhand, and Rafa was two points from the set as they changed ends 5-1.
A loose shot from Rafa gave hope to Federer and he drew to 3-5 with a drop shot volley put away combo.  Rafa put one long and now he would be serving at 5-4
Two sets points after Rafa forced the Federer error.  A backhand long by Federer sent the first set off to Spain, and not by Fed Express. 7-6 Nadal.
Federer did well to stick with Nadal the way he did but he could have been broken twice.  His refusal to mix up his game by serve volleying, even just a little, may prove costly.

Nadal served first in the second and Feder forced a mistake on the opening point.  A mishit by Roger followed by a body shot by Nadal forcing Federer long had Nadal ahead 30-15. Federer had the chance for 30-40 but hit the net with a makable, no easy forehand.  Then Nadal treated us to some nice touch with a cleverly disguised drop shot to win the game and lead 1-0.
A forehand winner from Federer and a Nadal error gave Roger 30-0.  Despite a return cross court winner from the top seed, Federer held for 1-1.
A Nadal off forehand cross court winner and a clutch of unforced errors on return by Roger, formed the foundation for an easy service hold by the world number one who led 2-1.  Federer found himself at 0-30 after a Nadal backhand cross court winner and one of his own shots going long.  He regrouped for 30-30, forcing Nadal into error on his forehand, but another into the net gave break point to the Spaniard.
Yet again Roger saved it, this time with a big serve producing a garbage response.
A backhand down the line winner set up another break point - again saved well.
Still another backhand winner cross court gave a break point but Roger saved with an ace.  Federer went to game point but was passed with a forehand by Nadal  for deuce. A forehand by Federer down the line and another winner touching the line gave him the game and 2-2.  Possibly the highest standard game of the tournament.
Two mishits by Federer and yet another backhand cross court winner by Nadal - all these topped off with an ace and that was a quick game 3-2 Nadal.
Two shots wide by Federer left him vulnerable at 0-30  At 15-30 Nadal played an impossible forehand passing shot almost lying down with Federer at the net.  The second of the two break points was converted with a backhand cross court winner.  Nadal led 4-2.
A service winner sent Nadal to 30-0 after Roger found the net again on the first point.  A double fault complicated things albeit briefly because Roger into the net and then wide assisted Rafa to a 5-2 advantage.
First two points to Roger with forehand clean winners while Rafa was in another suburb.  40-0 after Nadal caught the Roger net disease. An ace clinched the game and at 5-3 Nadal would serve for a two set lead.
Backhand hit long by Nadal who was outlasted in a long rally.  A forehand went long and the top seed faced 0-30.  An awe on defensive display by Federer almost won him a point for which he should never have been in contention.  Then we had a master class rally finished off in style with a glorious forehand winner from Nadal.  Set point arrived courtesy of Roger's side of the net, and the set was confirmed in the same fashion.  Nadal led 7-6 6-3
Tough now for Federer unless he changes his game - for the baseline he would be lucky to win a set against Nadal in this form.

Federer won the first game to love with excellent first serves and led 1-0
Roger had 15-15 on Rafa's serve but found the net before an ace from Nadal and another Federer error evened things at 1-1
Roger was sprawling after he just managed to reach a Rafa forehand with an inch of his racquet.  A winning off forehand looked better from the Swiss sixth seed.  Sadly two errors brought two break points.  A forehand from Nadal coaxed another Federer shot into the net and the top seed had a break and 2-1.
A great second serve from Nadal countered his first point stumble and it was 15-15.      A forehand pushed wide off the Nadal racquet followed by another shocker wide gave Federer break points.  The first was saved with a Federer shot long.  However a Nadal forehand long meant that Roger had achieved a break of the Nadal serve for the first time of the night.  2-2
A wonderful shot from Nadal gave Federer no chance and when Roger hit one long he was facing 15-30.  A loose forehand from Federer created two break points for Nadal, the first evaporated with a return into the net, the second went the same way.  A serve volley point put Federer in sight of the lead and another big serve forced the error from Nadal. 3-2 Federer.
Two returns into the net and Rafa had 30-0.  This was the catalyst for a love game and for 3-3.
Ace by Federer answered by a forehand pass by Nadal then an off forehand winner by Federer.  Then after the winners cam two Federer mistakes and a break point.  Out of nothing Roger hit another loose forehand and handed the vital break of serve to Nadal who led 4-3.
A forehand forced error off the first point and Nadal led 15-0.  An aggressive inside out forehand drive by Federer caused Nadal to miss and we had 15-15.  Winners by both players took it to 30-30 but a backhand just failed to go over for Roger and Rafa had game point.  Missing a basic backhand at the net, Federer made it easy for Nadal who led now 5-3.

Federer, serving to stay in the tournament, traded forehand winner with a backhand winner of Nadal.  An ace took him to 30-15 and at 40-15 Rafa put a stunning backhand down the line.  The next rally was intense but Nadal had his forehand ready and winning. Deuce.  Roger sent a forehand long and it was match point all of a sudden.  Saved with Nadal finding the net.  Incredible winner by Rafa set up another match point.  Roger put it long and the match was over.
Rafa Nadal in straight sets 7-6 6-3 6-3 and that was the first Swiss obstacle out of the road.  He now faced another in Stanislas Wawrinka.

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