When I previewed the match between Rafa and Kei despite Rafa not being at his very best this year I did expect him to extend his head to head lead to 8-0 against Kei but I was surprised and impressed to see the result in the morning.
I watched the highlights of the match and have picked out three things all of them from Kei which really impressed me, those things being:
- Match Rhythm/Tempo
- Return of serve
Every player wants to set the tempo to the way they play, some are better at adapting to opponents tempo and some aren’t. Right from the beginning it was 100 mph tennis, Kei wasn’t going to get involved in too long rallies with only 8 rallies in the entire match over 9 shots and 5 of those Nadal won. The speed of the tennis Kei played was exceptional but also not just the speed as we see players play a high speed game and produce countless under forced errors however this was more measured. Nishikori may have hit a few more errors but made up with it with more winners as well especially off the forehand which I will come to in a minute. Both players produced some exceptional shots in such a high tempo game but it was Kei who was the much better, confident and consistent of the two players throughout the match!
Kei hit an incredible 16 forehand winners against Nadal which is exceptional over two sets of tennis. Because of the depth he got on the ball he forced Nadal to basically play on the writing behind the court where it says ‘Montreal’ and with this he could step up the court and he timed his movement to perfection.
Above I have put a few of his forehands (yellow lines) and a couple of backhands (red lines) to show how much of the court he used. These aren’t just shots throughout rallies every point I have put on there is a winner which is just incredible. In Football terms when a player dominates a player throughout a match the phrase ‘in his back pocket’ is used and Kei certainly had Nadal where he wanted him.
Nadal tried to play a lot of his tennis down the middle of the court however he wasn’t make Kei defend like Kei made Nadal to defend at all. Nadal did hit a few stunning forehands but nothing to turn the match around.
Return of serve
I don’t think I have ever seen a player return Nadal’s serve with interest like Kei did last night. The third point of a rally is always the most important, this is the server’s time to try and take a bit of control however a few times the point was already over before then or Nadal ended up playing a short ball and within 10 seconds of putting his serve into play was on the back foot.
These two service returns above caught my eye, both were return winners. Sadly I do not know if the serve was first or second serve however I saw the stats of the match and I was interested to see the average first serves of both players. There was little difference between the two players first serve speed with Kei just edging it but the average second serve speed was apparently the same at 142KMH.
I noticed a number times throughout the match that the serve came back with interest on it. What puzzled me even more was serving into the strike zone in the two examples above both ended up producing forehand winners from Kei but also the lack of movement from Nadal once he served, he stayed on the baseline and virtually centre on the court which basically says there’s the target, go and hit it and he did!
I cannot express how much of a brilliant performance this was. If you get the chance then watch highlights it was one of the matches of the year for me. Incredible!