Join Date: Jan 2004
Nadal match report from Pacific Life Open (spoiler)
Nadal survives test in first match
In his first match at the Pacific Life Open, Rafael Nadal dispatched Jan Hernych 6-4, 6-4, in a match in which both players struggled in the windy conditions.
At the start of the match, it was Nadal who was looking the more eager. With the players standing at the net across from each other, Hernych was calm and composed, Nadal, the complete opposite. He danced from foot to foot unable to keep still. If one ever wants to see the appearance of charged, pent up energy, take a look at a pre-match Nadal.
His physical size, sleeveless shirt and 'ready for business' facial expression gives Nadal the resemblance of a prizefighter, rather than a professional tennis player.
At the completion of the ball toss, Nadal sprints to the baseline and continues to dance around as the players ready to warm-up. Such is the physical nature of Nadal's body language, that one almost feels sorry for Hernych before the match even begins.
Things don't look much better for Hernych when the match does begin. Hernych serves first and is immediately broken. A game later and it is 2-0 Nadal. In the third game, Hernych starts to settle and hit the ball with more confidence. His big first serve draws short returns from the Nadal racquet, but Hernych continually fails to capitalize on easy volleys. Rather it is Hernych's play from the baseline that shows the first signs of promissing play. A blistering down the line backhand gets Hernych on the board and draws the crowd into the match.
On Nadal's service games, the Spaniard's combination of pace and spin from the baseline continually push Hernych deep. It takes Nadal only two to three shots, often less, to have Hernych pinned deep behind the baseline. The inevitable short ball floats to the mid court from Hernych's racquet, and Nadal is quick to show the journeyman that he can kill the point equally well with both power and touch.
Nadal covers the court with exceptional foot speed. His pace both when sprinting for wide shots and when making quick changes of direction belies his physical size. In the blink of an eye, Nadal runs wide, sets up perfectly, and gets down low for a backhand, which sends the ball down the line for a clean winner. His backhand appears to be hit flatter compared to his forehand. He tends to stay lower with the two-handed stroke and push the racquet through the ball.
The Nadal forehand is a different beast, entirely. It is Nadal's favored wing. Nadal is not opposed to running way around his backhand in order to have the chance to rip a forehand. Contrary to his stay low approach to the backhand, Nadal hits the majority of his forehands more upright and in an open stance. His racquet brushes up the back of the ball with incredible pace and finishes up above his head. As a result, the ball takes a massive bounce off the courts. With the courts at Indian Wells playing slow and sticky, the conditions seem to favor the Nadal forehand, which is good news for Nadal, and bad news for Hernych.
Play goes with serve as the first set progresses, and Hernych shows little threat of breaking Nadal to even things up.
At 4-3, the match gains excitement. Nadal rips another trademark forehand winner, and then hits an ace to go up 30-0. Finally, Hernych capitalizes at net, hitting a volley winner for 30-15. A long rally ends with a Hernych lob that misses the baseline by mere inches. At 40-15, Nadal makes an uncharacteristic mistake by missing an inside out forehand wide. Then another easy Nadal miss, this time a volley, brings the score to deuce. It's the closest Hernych has come to threatening the Nadal serve, but the threat doesn't last long. Nadal's constant pace, depth and spin from his forehand wing forces more short balls, and this time Nadal isn't as charitable.
Nadal holds, and the slight test from Hernych has brought the crowd into the match. Hernych starts to play more aggressively, but unless he starts off strongly behind a solid first serve, he quickly finds himself on the defensive.
Nadal closes out the first set 6-4, with the break of serve in the first game the decisive factor. Even a set down, one feels Hernych has plenty of opportunities. Nadal's play is far from his best, a fact he openly admits in the after match press conference. When Hernych is at net, one feel he has the point on his racquet. However, his volleys continually find the top of the net, or just sail wide. Part of the problem must be the pace and weight of Nadal's passing shots, but then come missed volleys that have the amateurs in the crowd joking about the comparison to their own volleying prowess.
In the middle of the second set, Hernych is broken again. This time it comes courtesy of a let-cord, which sees a Nadal shot just trickle over and land out of reach. However, the damage had already been done with Hernych's inability to close out points at the net. A missed backhand volley on the previous point had put Hernych break point down and pretty much summed up the tall German's struggles in the windy conditions.
The point of the match comes in the deciding game of the second set. Serving for the match at 5-4, 30-15, Nadal approaches the net and draws Hernych in with a short angle. The players exchange volleys and the point starts to resemble something one would expect to see on the doubles court. Nadal hits an impressive lob volley which sends Hernych scurrying to the baseline. Nadal also retreats, and the players resume the point trading groundstrokes. A short ball sees Nadal approach behind a drop shot, but the ball sees to much air and sits up long enough for Hernych to come in and take a good swing. The resulting shot pegs Nadal in the mid section, and it is the only shot for which Nadal checks the mark. Two points later and it's all over. Nadal is through to the third round where he meets Mardy Fish, a 6-3, 6-2 winner over Filippo Volandri.