Losing from Behind
It’s better than losing from ahead, right? #brightside
Of course, technically Rafa was ahead, twice, in the first set. And, twice in the tiebreak. So basically he lost from behind and ahead. #talent
I have a scramble of thoughts, per usual, so I’m going to go ahead and make some eggs, and possibly, hashbrowns. (This also is known as a “bulleted list.”)
- Rafa summed up the reasons for his loss succinctly yet comprehensively in his post-match presser: he played bad. He gave away the first set after being up a break two times over. Dolgopolov played better. Rafa didn’t go for his shots and yet, somewhat ironically given that, still made way too many mistakes, left the balls that did stay in/go over the net short, and as a result, became a very “normal,” i.e. beatable, player.
- As far as Dolgopolov is concerned, he played well. He came up with big serves in the TB and he was more consistent, in the third set especially, than he typically is, thereby putting a great deal of pressure on Rafa, whose ground game was shaky at best. But, Dolgopolov certainly was not spectacular. He gave Rafa plenty of chances, which makes the loss all the more frustrating and confusing. Then again, losing in a third set TB is better than 2 and 2, or 3-6, 6-3, 3-6. I think.
- As Rafa attempted to joke about in the presser, although only the crickets seemed to appreciate it, one bad match and/or losing one close match doesn’t make him a bad competitor. In fact, he played an awful match and still made it to 6-6 in the third, which speaks to what a good competitor he is. And even good competitors lose sometimes. (Especially when their feet are like Isnerian concrete blocks and they shovel routine backhands into the middle of the net for no good reason in the tiebreaker. #notquiteoverityet)
- I felt like Rafa was super-off in this match from a mental/attitudinal standpoint. Even when he walked out onto the court, I noted to myself that he looked especially tense and unhappy. (Granted, he always looks a bit grim, but sometimes it’s a detectably focused, intense, and/or eager grim. Yesterday, it was a blah grim. #technicalterm) At times throughout the match, he was passive to the point of near disinterest, almost like he was going through the motions, pushing balls back in play (when he was lucky) rather than actually thinking about how to best construct and win points. Of course, Rafa being Rafa, he made a match of it and tried to will himself along with a few Vamoses here and there, but overall, to me, it seemed forced and his mind seemed somewhere else and he did not look to be enjoying himself on the court at all. Now, for a lot of players, these mental checkouts are actually par for the course. But it’s jarring when it happens with Rafa because it’s so unusual, although obviously, as a human, he’s going to have some bad days now and again, for whatever reasons. And, again, even blah Rafa still made it to 5-5 in the third set tiebreak.
- Rafa needs to play better. Playing bad has, unfortunately, already become a bit of a pattern this season (and really, one could argue, it started last Fall, to a degree.) Rafa’s obviously only lost two matches this year, so he’s been winning despite the struggles, but his level of tennis, on average, compared to the tennis he is capable of producing, and honestly, compared to the level of tennis one expects the world #1 to be able to produce on a fairly regular basis, has been pretty mediocre. A lot of unnecessary dropped sets. A lot of UFEs and DFs and UFEDFA (unforced error/double fault angst). A lot of making it very, very easy for opponents to basically tee off on short balls, hitting them anywhere and everywhere they please at very high rates of speed. A lot of Rafa standing with his legs awkwardly crossed up watching those balls whizz by. Of course, nobody plays great all the time, there’s actually a lot of value in winning while playing poorly etc. etc. But…there’s also a lot of value in playing well, and winning when playing well. Rafa needs to do more of that, soon. Lurching and rumbling and bumping through matches and having to dive over the finish line and win by a nose is fun every once in a while, but a.) at some point, the jig is up/the luck runs out (see: yesterday’s match) and b.) at a certain point, it does exact a physical and mental toll and can become a vicious and unproductive cycle and c.) that’s not generally how big tournaments are won. There needs to be some cruising and some outclassing, at least in the early goings, as that sets players up physically and mentally/confidence-wise for the truly tough matches at the end.
- As part of that–Rafa needs to play at a higher base level day in and day out. Right now it seems like he’s too often taking the court at a 3. He needs to be at a 6, otherwise life is going to be really, really difficult for him, because as he alluded to himself in his press conference, when he’s a 3, he’s normal. He’s not special. Anybody can beat him. When he’s a 6, he’s still not playing his best, but, he’s starting to get into that territory of being comfortably better than guys outside of the top-10/15, and at least competitive with those within it (assuming they don’t come out playing at a 10). Obviously it’s also easier to achieve a 7, 8, 9 as needed, in response to the opponent, when one starts at 6. When Rafa starts at a 3 and then finally plays better, he’s still only a 5-6, which is still vulnerable. <—(this all makes sense in my head)
- Rafa called the loss an accident. He also called his rather distressing loss to Ljubicic in 2010 an accident. He went on to win the three remaining Majors. Just putting that out there, with no sly implicative connotations whatsoever.
- It was my understanding that it was not possible for Rafa to lose with Pau in his box because Pau is a magical being who brings only happiness, light, wisdom, calm–and victories–to Rafa.
Presumably Pau has grander plans in mind, then. #trustinpau