Match Stats/Report - Nadal vs Ljubicic, Madrid final, 2005

Waspsting

Hall of Fame
Rafael Nadal beat Ivan Ljubicic 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(3) in the Madrid final, 2005 on indoor hard court

It was Nadal's 4th Masters title of the year (and career), following Monte Carlo, Rome and Canadian Open and to date, remains his only title on indoor hard court. Ljubicic, playing his first Masters final, had won his last two tournaments recently on the same surface (Metz and Vienna) and would be runner up in Paris Masters shortly after

Nadal won 145 points, Ljubicic 154

Serve Stats
Nadal...
- 1st serve percentage (123/159) 77%
- 1st serve points won (88/123) 72%
- 2nd serve points won (13/36) 36%
- Aces 6
- Double Faults 2
- Unreturned Serve Percentage (33/159) 21%

Ljubicic...
- 1st serve percentage (91/140) 65%
- 1st serve points won (70/91) 77%
- 2nd serve points won (26/49) 53%
- Aces 32 (2 second serves)
- Double Faults 6
- Unreturned Serve Percentage (57/140) 41%

Serve Pattern
Nadal served...
- to FH 25%
- to BH 62%
- to Body 13%

Ljubicic served...
- to FH 48%
- to BH 52%

Return Stats
Nadal made...
- 77 (29 FH, 48 BH), including 2 return-approaches
- 25 Errors, comprising...
- 1 Unforced (1 FH)
- 24 Forced (11 FH, 13 BH)
- Return Rate (77/134) 57%

Ljubicic made...
- 124 (40 FH, 84 BH), including 1 runaround FH
- 4 Winners (1 FH, 3 BH)
- 27 Errors, comprising...
- 13 Unforced (4 FH, 9 BH)
- 14 Forced (14 BH)
- Return Rate (124/157) 79%

Break Points
Nadal 4/9 (5 games)
Ljubicic 5/13 (8 games)

Winners (including returns, excluding aces)
Nadal 29 (14 FH, 6 BH, 5 FHV, 2 BHV, 2 OH)
Ljubicic 52 (14 FH, 13 BH, 15 FHV, 7 BHV, 3 OH)

Nadal's FHs - 4 cc (2 passes), 3 dtl (2 passes), 2 inside-out, 1 inside-out/dtl, 3 inside-in and 1 drop shot
- BHs - 3 cc (2 passes), 1 dtl pass, 1 lob and 1 running-down-drop-shot cc at net pass

- 1 from a serve-volley point - a first volley, BHV

- 2 from return-approach points (1 FHV, 1 OH)

Ljubicic's FHs - 1 cc pass, 5 dtl (1 return), 2 dtl/inside-out, 5 inside-out and 1 longline
- BH - 4 cc (1 at net), 5 dtl, 1 inside-out return, 2 inside-in returns and 1 drop shot

- 3 from serve-volley points - 2 first volleys (1 FHV, 1 OH) and 1 second volley (1 BHV)

Errors (excluding returns and serves)
Nadal 43
- 16 Unforced (13 FH, 3 BH)
- 27 Forced (13 FH, 13 BH, 1 FHV)... with 3 FH running-down-drop-shot at net & 2 BH running-down-drop-shot at net
Unforced Error Forcefulness Index 46.3

Ljubicic 77
- 51 Unforced (26 FH, 24 BH, 1 FHV)... with 1 FH at net & 1 BH at net
- 26 Forced (15 FH, 3 BH, 3 FHV, 3 FH1/2V, 2 BHV)... with 1 BH running-down-drop-shot at net
Unforced Error Forcefulness Index 49.2

(Note 1: all half-volleys refer to such shots played at net. Half -volleys played from other parts of the court are included within relevant groundstroke counts)

(Note 2: the Unforced Error Forcefulness Index is an indicator of how aggressive the average UE was. The numbers presented for these two matches are keyed on 4 categories - 20 defensive, 40 neutral, 50 attacking and 60 winner attempt)

Net Points & Serve-Volley
Nadal was...
- 21/29 (72%) at net, including...
- 3/3 (100%) serve-volleying, all 1st serves
---
- 2/2 return-approaching
- 0/1 retreated

Ljubicic was...
- 45/68 (66%) at net, including...
- 5/11 (45%) serve-volleying, comprising...
- 2/7 (29%) off 1st serve and...
- 3/4 (75%) off 2nd serve
---
- 0/1 forced back

Match Report
Highly entertaining and very good match of contrasting styles of play on a fast court. Ljubicic has the big serve and attacking game - all match coming to net and in parts, deadly from back too - Nadal has gentle serve and sound ground game with counter-punching. In fast conditions, that would seem to favour Ljubicic. Despite the result, so it proves

Like most 5 setters, quality of play fluctuates across the match. The action is best understood in terms of prospects

Ljubicic with his huge serve can and does hold easily most of the time. Including in the sets he loses. Nadal's prospects for gaining a break are slim at all times and to win sets, hustling out 1 break per set - maybe when Ljub misses a few first serves, or double faults or Nadal can come up with the good on the pass - is a reasonable match strategy

Even if he's successful - and its far from a given - he'd still need to hold. And liklihood of him doing doesn't look good. His serve is outright soft - easy to neutralize and with amibition, even attack - for about half the match and for the other half, it rises to still below average. Its not threatening at all. Even an average serve could be troublesome on this court - Nadal's isn't. Hence, Ljub can get into rallies readily on return, often from neutral position or even with initiative after his return

Putting it together, prospects of Ljub breaking - or at least making headway in return games - are a lot higher than Nadal. And so it plays out, despite the result

Points won - Nadal 145, Ljub 154
Points served - Nadal 159, Ljub 140
Break points stats - Nadal 4/9 (5 games), Ljub 5/13 (8 games)

More basically -
- Ljub is +5% on first serve points won
- Ljub +17% second serve points won
- somewhat compensated by Nadal +12% first serves in... but with Ljub still serving at excellent 65% and Nadal with terrible 36% second serve points won.... most likely outcome would be a Ljubicic win

So how does Nadal come away with the win? 'Playing the big points better'. He doesn't play them unduly play better than at other points in the match and Ljub likewise doesn't play them unduly worse, but a disproportionate number of big points goes Nadal way. I'd call that random chance - the way 6 coin flips sometimes come down 5 heads, 1 tails as opposed to the theoritcally 'correct' 3 heads, 3 tails

Conditioning is a factor in the result. Ljub had been playing tennis non-stop for 3 weeks and appears tired somewhere around late third/early fourth set. Nadal, according to commentary had some knee issues. He's wearing bands under both knees and his court coverage is well down from his personal norm all match

Serve & Return
Tremendous serving from Ljubicic. 32 aces and 41% unreturned rate. Not only does he serve at 65%, but for large part of match, his second serve is like a first serve. Its stronger than Nadal's first serve for starters

Ljub has 2 second serve aces, or 1 every 2/43 non double fault. Nadal has 6 first serve aces out of 123. In other words, Ljub serves a second serve ace 4.65% of the time, Nadal a first serve one 4.88%... with Nadal being a lot harder to ace than Ljub

Nadal has no read on the serve at all and takes to guessing. He does very well to return whatever isn't an ace. 25 errors doesn't look small (all but 1 are forced - many of them second serves) but is given 32 aces go by him. Quality of Ljub's serve goes down as match wears on. For first two sets, he's effectively serving 2 'first' serves. As his percentage drops, he takes something off first and second serve. Towards end, he doesn't seem able to serve as hard, though he still send down big serves regularly

Very unusual for Nadal to return-approach at all, let alone twice and he's driven to it during period when he's getting no counter-play at all. The first is a bona fida, push-charge return... the kind of thing you might see from John McEnroe. The second is a deep, looped return against a first serve that he dashes to net behind. He wins both points with winners

Nadal's serve is below average and it wouldn't be inaccurate to call it weak even. Most first serves are not only un-forceful but attackable. Second serves tend to be short and Ljub wallops them (main reason for Nadal winning just 36% such points). It does improve some as match goes on but at no time is a weapon. Ljub's returning quality fluctuates and late in match, he's sometimes lead footed. He has 4 winners.

On court like this and with relative strength of each players serve, I'd say both players return well by their own standard. Against Ljub's barrage, a normal returner could easily see 50% unreturned. Nadal keeps it down to 41%. His better returns are loopy and not short and Ljub retains initiative off point. Of course, plenty of outright weak returns where Ljub has big advantage. Ljub for his part returns just shy of 80%. He's facing a weak serve but court is quick. He's consistent and picks returns to attack. Few misses going for winners, but shot choice is good

In nutshell, top class serving from Ljub met with consistent-as-is-allowed returning by Nadal. Below average to weak serving from Nadal. Ljub returning consistently and could be probably be more damaging. He tries in wise amount, some success, some not

Play - Baseline & Net
Action varies across the match, and a bit strangely given how serve-return complex is, its Nadal's quality that determines how it goes

He is, as ever, consistent from the back with 16 UEs. Ljubicic has more than that off both sides - 26 from FH, 24 BH... consistency is a mismatch. The action shaping part of play, given Nadal's high consistency, becomes how heavily he hits. For first couple of sets, he doesn't hit heavy at all. Just putting ball in court stuff. And he leads with FH cc, as he likes to, which is consistent throughout match

With Nadal just putting balls in court without heat and dropping the ball short sooner or later, Ljub thrives by stepping in and hitting point ending shots. Ljub prefers BH, and hits some stunning, sharply angled cc winners as well as stepping in to firmly finish dtl. First set in particular is about Ljub's shot making vs Nadal's consistency and Ljub is well in the positives in it. Second set, he adds coming to net to finish on top of that - and wins even more easily
 
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Waspsting

Hall of Fame
Gradually, Nadal starts hitting heavier. Very much gradually... by no means he does he suddenly shift gears to start hitting dominantly hard. Power of shot between two is about the same for most of the third set, and even hitting normally (as opposed to near lightly in first two sets or heavily), Nadal's errors go up a bit. But he does enough that Ljub isn't able to step in and end points from the back, and Ljub makes more neutral errors still. With Ljub's approaching still working like a charm, play is very evenly poised and its not hard to imagine it turning one way or the other over a few games. Ljub's capable of stepping in and ending points and Nadal's capable of stepping in and bossing Ljub more commandingly... but they stick to a delicate status quo

As match continues, Nadal starts controlling, if not commanding baseline rallies more. At his most 'aggressive', he moves Ljub around some with combinations of FH inside-out and cc/inside-in. Its just about good enough to be consistent way to end points. Ljub's movements aren't very good

Nadal's biggest point finishing weapon is FH inside-out. But he has just 2 winners on the shot (and 1 of them was out but went uncalled)... which is very, very low for him, but bulk of Ljubs match high 15 FH FEs come against the shot. 2 winners, forcing most of 15 errors with Ljub not particularly fast of foot speaks to Nadal's attacks being mild. He also utilizes net play to good effect, winning a very healthy 76% in forecourt. Just 29 approaches (Ljub has 68), but he comes in at important times to finish of points. Most of the points he loses are forced approaches (he has 5 running-down-drop-shots errors). Virtually perfect from Nadal when he chooses to come in. Sans the 1 point he retreats from net from and errors against drop shots, he wins 21/23 or 91% net points (1 or 2 are forced approaches). He doesn't come in from overly commanding positions either where the approach shot has done all the work. Volleys very surely against decent passing from Ljub.

Attacking is secondary part of Nadal's effectiveness. For last 3 sets, he controls baseline without bossing from it and outlasts Ljub, all the while leading with FHs. Still, one of the quiet keys to the match is his BH, which yields miserly 3 UEs - 3 times fewer than his FH and about 8 times both Ljub's groundies. Typically solid from Nadal, but some discredit to Ljub too. He's inconsistent enough against a normal standard that one can say he doesn't play well (as opposed to playing decently, but Nadal being better). Nadal's play is conservative for a quick court

Shot making and other attacking groundstrokes falling flat after first couple sets, Ljub relies on approaching to give his game teeth. The Ljub at net vs Nadal on the pass battle is one of the highlights of the match. Great net play from Ljub - both instincts of when to come in (not necessarily when completely in command from back) and and the volleying (just the 1 UE and placing his volleys beautifully and well - including drop volleys). Nadal makes his share of improbable passes too to limit damage to Ljub winning 66% net points. That's a great figure - quality of his play is worth even more, sans Nadal's outstanding passes. Great credit to both players in this battle

Match Progression
For first two sets, Ljubicic plays about as well as its possible to play - serving huge and consistently, returning steadily and damagingly (against soft serving), successfully going in for shot making baseline tennis and coming to net to finish things off. After 2 sets -

- he's made 36/49 first serves or 73%. Serving huge and wide. And if that weren't enough, basically serving 2 'first' serves. His second serve would make a good first serve. 12 aces and unreturned rate of 44%. Nadal's left as stone as serves go by and what little he can get back, he can only do so weakly

- off the ground, he goes for and makes winners off both sides after serve draws weak return. Usually BHs in both directions

- returns at 73% against a soft serve. Short second serves are punished

- when rallies go on a bit (in both serve and return games), he still hits BH point ending shots in both directions but adds more FHs dtl or comes into net to finish. His shots are such that he doesn't even look like he's attacking. Hits as naturally and easily as someone playing neutral shots - only they're all placed perfectly for winners. If that weren't enough, he starts throwing in point ending drop shots. Still not done, he comes to net to finish points. He's 13/16 rallying his way to net

- 21 winners, forcing 12 errors out of Nadal to 16 UEs (1 of those UEs should've been a winner but was erroneously called out, giving Nadal his only break), at UEFI of 50.6. 13/16 or 81% at net. Nadal with just 5 UEs... he's not moving well and his groundies lack punch and tend to be short, but not playing badly in absolute sense and certainly not enough to be brushed aside so easily. Nadal does lead with FH cc's as he likes, but with shot not heavy, Ljub is apt to dispatch it with sharply angled BH cc or dtl

Absolutely top drawer from Ljub for two sets. Nadal is a bit flat but all credit to Ljub.

In third set, Nadal starts hitting a bit more firmly, moving Ljub around mildly and getting a few winning passes off. Ljub starts missing his point ending groundies and relies on net play. He grabs the break in a tough, 14 point game to go up 4-1. Nadal opens with a rare and daring delayed return-approach after having looped the return in deep and finishing with drop FHV winner. Near end of game, he pulls of a BH cc pass winner and ends with 2 more daring net points to gain the break

He's not out of the woods and has to endure 12 and 10 point holds, saving 3 break points in the former. Net play and passing plays a hand in him holding both games, including a perfect, BH running-down-drop-shot cc net pass winner on one break point and a BH lob winner after drop shotting Ljub in riskily down 15-30 in the second game. Other than the break, Ljub continues to ace and cruise through his service games, but the break proves enough for Nadal to take the set

Fourth set is similar but with Nadal moving Ljub around more intensely, often corner to corner with combinations of FHs. It seems to wear Ljub out and he looks weary half way into set. His serving strength - especially second serves - drops some, though he continues to get his share of cheap points

Nadal gets the break early. There's a remarkable, full running and stretched out FH cc pass winner early in the game, he brings up break point with a dipping pass that Ljub misses (makeable, but difficult volley) and finishes with his only genuine FH inside-out winner of the match. He has to save a break point in a 10 point game later in the set, an error strewn game

Players trade breaks early in the fifth. Ljub goes first, hitting his only passing winner, volleying a winner and forcing a passing error on break point. Nadal breaks right back to 15 in a terrible game from Ljub that begins and ends with double faults, with 2 forecourt UEs thrown in between. Reasonably comfortable holds from thereon. Ljub is closer to making breakthrough and takes Nadal to 10 point game but Nadal outlasts him from back to hold

Nadal takes net to start tiebreak with a mini-break. On his second service point, he hits FH inside-out into corner that's called a winner. Replays indicate it was out by a hair. It would have been absolutely impossible to tell in real time whether ball was in or not. Down 3-5, Ljub gives up second mini-break missing an attacking third ball FH before Nadal wraps up on his first match point

Summing up, fun and lively match. The difference in quality of serve is such that Nadal has to fight for scraps to get into return games, while Ljubicic is able to do so readily. Nadal's baseline forcefulness increases as match goes on - starting from soft and growing to controlling without ever reaching overpowering or commanding levels - and he remains highly consistent throughout. Ljubicic brushes Nadal at his softest hitting aside but is otherwise outlasted and outmanuvered from the back. Ljubicic comes to net effectively and volleys very well all match, while Nadal is able to find perfect passes just so often, is more choosey about coming in but chooses just right moments and is almost perfect up front

Prospects favour Ljubicic coming out ahead and he's able to create more chances while holding serve more easily throughout the match. Nadal doesn't let up on critical points and things fall his way on them with neither exceptionally good play from him or bad play from Ljubicic to the tune of his gaining the win

Stats for Canadian Open final between Nadal and Andre Agassi - (10) Match Stats/Report - Nadal vs Agassi, Canadian Open final, 2005 | Talk Tennis (tennis-warehouse.com)
Stats for '06 Miami final between Ljubicic and Roger Federer - (10) Duel Match Stats/Reports - Federer vs Blake & Federer vs Ljubicic, Indian Wells & Miami finals, 2006 | Talk Tennis (tennis-warehouse.com)
 

Third Serve

G.O.A.T.
Very odd match. Ljubicic really let this one get away from him, but I guess he made his revenge in a match Nadal should have won, IW 2010 SF.
 
Very odd match. Ljubicic really let this one get away from him, but I guess he made his revenge in a match Nadal should have won, IW 2010 SF.
Kinda typical weak era specimen Ljubicic, high botting peak but lacking consistency/clutch in general. Lost the following Paris F to teen Berdych with slightly superior stats as well. Worst thing is him managing just two slam QFs in 2006 (AO QF, RG SF - the latter with a joke draw, no top 50 opponents) and never again. (Well Anderson was barely a better player and he's made two slam finals, we know which era is weaker lolol.)
 
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