The Return of the Doubles Champions of the Wooooorrrrlllld
The title is, admittedly, a slight exaggeration, as Rafa and Marc did not exactly look like world beaters today against Molchanov and Stakhovsky (I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me yesterday that Ukraine might substitute Stakhovsky and/or Dologpolov in doubles as a last ditch effort…of course, I’m also not sure why Ukraine didn’t substitute both Stakhovsky and Dolgopolov, since it was their last ditch effort and both Stakvosky and Dolgopolov are good doubles players). Rafa and Marc did, however, look like Ukraine beaters (well, except for the second set), and that’s all that matters, as they successfully won the match and clinched the tie for Spain, thereby keeping Spain in the World Group.
It was definitely a scratchy performance from Rafa and Marc, with both habitually struggling with returns, volleys, accuracy, timing, positioning, and hitting the ball over the net. So, small things. Stakhovsky and Molchanov managed to control a lot of the action and play much of the match on their terms–i.e. at the net–and so Marc and Rafa weren’t able to take advantage of their superior ground games, which has been so key to their success in the past. After somewhat frustratingly dropping the second set (Rafa and Marc were up a break, lost it, then up a mini-break two different times in the TB, and lost them), Marc and Rafa regrouped, cut out some of the cheap errors, and benefitted from a few more from their opponents to break once in sets 3 and 4 and win the match in relatively routine fashion, 6-2, 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-4. Both Rafa and Marc acknowledged after the match that the tennis level wasn’t quite there from them today, but fortunately their positive attitudes got them through.
Rafa will take tomorrow off, with Tommy and Fer playing the dead rubbers. Rafa will then have about two weeks of rest, with his next tournament (Beijing) scheduled to begin on September 30.