Match report

Denis Istomin ©
French Open
2nd round
5/31/12 1 2 3 Tot
uz  Denis Istomin 2 2 0 0
es  Rafael Nadal 6 6 6 3
Rafael Nadal ©
  • Nadal puts on clay court clinic against Istomin

    5/31/12 4:34 PM | Cheryl Murray
    Rafael Nadal gave Denis Istomin a tough tennis lesson on Thursday as the Spaniard played ruthless tennis to advance to the third round.

    Defending French Open champion Rafael Nadal battered Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin as the second round wrapped up in Paris on Thursday.

    Except for a few games at the beginning of the second set, Nadal's ground game was brutally efficient. The Spaniard employed a tactic of returning from way behind the baseline and quickly making his way forward to take control of the point.

    For the first set and a bit of the second, Nadal's first-serve percentage was below 50%, but by the end of the second he'd raised that to 74%. In the third, which he completely dominated, he missed just one first serve.

    Istomin earned himself a couple of chances to break Nadal's serve at the beginning of the second set, thanks to some big hitting and a couple of errors from the No. 2 seed. But Nadal hit his way out of trouble. From there on, Nadal took control of the match, gaining confidence with each game.

    By the third set, Istomin was no longer a factor in the match. Nadal hit 10 winners and no unforced errors in the set. In the end, the world No. 2 won all but five points in the third frame.

    Nadal will take on the winner of Florian Mayer and Eduardo Schwank in the third round.

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Istomin's verdict after his pasting by Rafa:

"He's running very fast and moving on the court," said Istomin. "He try to hit every ball, so make a lot of winners, good serving. He does everything on clay. Like everybody says, king of clay. I have never played him on clay [before], and for me was good experience. In the beginning [it] was a good match for me. Not many mistakes.

"I think he's in good shape. He's won a lot of tournaments already on clay. For me, the favourite to win the Roland Garros again."

rafaisthebest , 5/31/12 5:45 PM

It's not as if Istomin played badly, he really played well but Rafa was in another zone altogether. If his other potential opponents were watching, I bet it sent them straight to the practice courts. As Peter Fleming said during one of Rafa's maches in Rome, it's the kind of match players would ask to be turned off in the locker room if they had to play the winner next.

Rafa needs to get his first serve in, he goes into the net too often, if he can iron that out he'll be very difficult to shift.

nadline , 5/31/12 5:57 PM

That's the one area he mentioned as a target for improvement in his presser, his, don't worry, our Rafa's aware.

Next up, Schwank...............

rafaisthebest , 5/31/12 6:10 PM

Nothing to complain about, then, especially since Nadal, who has dropped only nine games in his first two matches and lost one match since his debut on the Paris clay in 2005, feels he also is a happier person.

"I said I felt better, but I was not saying my season's going to be better. I was saying that during practice and during the tournament my attitude is slightly more positive, and it's less difficult," he explained.

"Whereas last year, due to my attitude, which was less positive, it was more difficult for me. The rallies were longer, and I was not at home and I felt it was a bit long.

"This year I'm having fun, a lot of fun, I'm happy, and I'm not - how can I say? I'm not suffering from the fact that I'm far from home."

rafaisthebest , 5/31/12 6:38 PM

That explains it, Rafa was not at ease last year, it was evident that his concentration wasn't there, complaining about having been on tour for what seemed like 100 years. This year he seems so relaxed and it's paying off.

nadline , 5/31/12 7:46 PM

^^^^I had an "aha" moment when I read that article, a lot of the puzzlement I had felt about Rafa's 2011 was explained.

I will save my other conclusions, based on this article, for after RG...........

rafaisthebest , 5/31/12 7:52 PM

I got up this morning to happy news. Now I just have to go back and watch my recording of the match! It sounds like Rafa played even better. Not that I thought Istomin would give him much of a match on the clay.

It's so nice to hear Rafa say that he is happier and having fun. We all knew something was terribly wrong last year. He really has found the passion again.

Well done, Rafa!

Nativenewyorker , 5/31/12 8:00 PM

So happy for Rafa, that he's enjoying his tennis again and feeling relaxed. Last year same time, it was worrying, though really glad he won his sixth FO title despite him not enjoying his tennis. I'm sure this year would be a better year for Rafa. Vamos!

luckystar , 5/31/12 8:04 PM

Rafa is playing his best on clay no doubt about that.

OnTheRise , 5/31/12 11:45 PM

Very happy that our Rafa had such a good match yesterday against Istomin and that he is enjoying his tennis again. His smile says it all and it is wonderful to see him so happy.

Vamos our Rafa & God bless.

schatz , 6/1/12 12:15 PM

I agree with nadline, it's not that Istomin played badly...the guy would trouble anyone with that game he employed, but Rafa was simply brilliant...Rafa must remember how Istomin made him work hard at that 2010 Queens match and he was ready to respond to Istomin's big hitting...I was really amazed to see how well Rafa was moving and how confident he was hitting deep and precise shots....I am proud of our may be premature to say but so far it seems "Rafa of 2008" arrived to win the 2012 RG trophy...:) It's very important for Rafa to enjoy his tennis and that is what makes him unbeatable...

Vamos Rafa!

natashao , 6/1/12 12:29 PM

What I am noticing from Rafa is that he tempers his play depending on the calibre of his opponent. For tough opponents his concentration is water-tight and he berings his A-game. You do not even see the 2nd set "lapses" you get when he is not troubled.

This is not to say he takes some players for granted, just that he calibrates his game so he does not waste energy unnecessarily...........

rafaisthebest , 6/1/12 12:36 PM

It might be too early to conclude but I feel that we are beginning to see the rafa that thrilled all of us in 2008. First 2 rounds were ruthless. The game against Istomin was very solid. At this rate few would bet against rafa retaining the title and surpassing the great Borg (which was bound to happen sooner or later).
Rafa still needs to work on the serve as it would even help him shorten some of the points.
The forhand has been very impressive and the return of serve also impressive (although it could still use some work).
Lets just enjoy RG as our guy does us proud

puto , 6/1/12 1:37 PM

Rafa's last on Chatrier tomorrow...................

rafaisthebest , 6/1/12 8:20 PM

"I read a piece from a writer last year--Brian Phillips from Grantland/ESPN who is a big Federer fan--who said he thought the current game of men's tennis still revolves around Rafael Nadal, in terms of both his rivalries, raising the intensity level of all players, and creating a belief of talent and hard work we've never seen before."

Jeremy Eckstein from Bleacher Report

Monalysa , 6/1/12 8:42 PM

^^not surprised. Nole's improvements were intended to neutralise Rafa, not Fed.......

rafaisthebest , 6/1/12 8:55 PM

^^^Absolutely right. If Rafa hadn't turned up in tennis interest would have dwindled.

nadline , 6/1/12 8:55 PM

I hope Rafa gets his turn with an easy draw at Wimbledon.

nadline , 6/1/12 8:58 PM

The odds for Rafa/Schwank are 50 to 1.

nadline , 6/1/12 9:02 PM

here is that article, Monalysa, or at least someone copying and pasting it.

I remember reading it back then. Very interesting to read again a few months later when Rafa has not let up and gone away but has evened things between him and Djokovic. I wonder how many of the other players would have responded not as possitively to the first two losses last year, then the two on clay, then three more at Wimbledon, US Open and AO ... I think that a number of them would have been crushed and would take a very long time to _possibly_ come back. Nadal came back with a fighting chance to win at US Open, more of one at AO, and so on since then.

chlorostoma , 6/1/12 9:24 PM

I actually think that we may see a Rafa who is better than 2008. That has been the benchmark for a while now, but I think the competition has gotten tougher since then in the men's game. At that time Berdy had not yet managed to raise his level of play. That would come two years later in 2010. Also, Delpo was not yet a factor. Nole had won the AO, but wasn't able to do anything else after that. Murray was just beginning to make some noise.

I think Rafa is now a more complete player than he was in 2008. As good as he was, he improved his serve, started going more to net and improved his volleying skills, and developed a more aggressive game overall.

No one could challenge Rafa in 2008 at RG. But the competition is even more fierce now. Nole reached new heights in 2011 and Murray also started getting great results. Berdy and Delpo have shown that they can be real threats. As good as Rafa was in 2008, I think he has evolved and improved in many ways. He may not be as fast as he was back then, but he has shown a real intelligence and savvy in matches. He is a great thinker and is one of the best at making mid-match adjustments.

I don't look back to the past, I look at the present and the future. In the Istomin match, Rafa's body language was extraordinary. His focus and intensity and confidence were amazing. He is healthy and playing some of his best tennis now. He has a few more gears in him. We may truly see something that will take our breath away. Rafa is looking fierce!

Nativenewyorker , 6/1/12 9:38 PM

Thanks Chloro.......

Monalysa , 6/1/12 9:55 PM

one of the best posts of the last week among all threads!

what you write has been on the back of my mind. Others to, no?

during the clay season of 2008 we saw Rafa _starting_ to adapt his playing style to a faster and more aggressive one. It was clear that he was more than good enough to win all the claycourt tournaments, blisters or injuries and such notwithstanding. So he was right to start playing something like hardcourt tennis during the clay season.

As a result he was not only unbeatable on clay, and untouchable by Federer on clay, but went on to win the Channel sandwich (Channel slams plus Queens for a little green relish in the middle), won the Olympics gold single, Toronto hardcourt and went deep at the US Open despite being depleted by the quick North America / Bejing turnaround. So Murray stopped him at the US Open.

I agree with what you wrote, and with what luckystar wrote elsewhere... Rafa evolved further after that terrific season... went on to win AO 2009 in spite of that monster semi-final... and would have broken all kinds of records in the following half year, including possibly his first US Open... had it not been for his parents separation and his knees getting heavily injured. Novak was still far from Novak 2011 and Federer nor anyone else probably would have stopped Nadal in virtually every tournament that season through the US Open.

The clay through US Open portion of 2010 we had again an improved Nadal, e.g. that serve at the US Open. This is when I opened my mouth and later had to swallow my foot when in late 2010 I dreamed of the Rafa slam followed by a fifth consecutive slam at RG 2011 and so on :-). Too bad about the early year cold and injuries... it did not help when Novak was starting his miraculous year.

When many were writing off Rafa by last summer he said that he was having a hard year but would keep working to improve, to be less predictable again, and mostly that the best player of the year was nearly unbeatable then but that all players who reach tremendous heights later also experience dips in level.

At any rate, Rafa has not stopped figuring out what to change, improve or practice and we saw his almost win the AO in the fifth set despite Novak clearly playing at a higher level for most of the 6 hours.

I also respect Novak a lot for having also worked hard at overcoming any weaker aspect of his game or mind and adjusting... to the point of getting to his 2011 form. Amazing.

chlorostoma , 6/1/12 10:16 PM

Awesome Chloro! That AO 2012 is to us Rafans what probably Wimby 2008 is to the Federinas.

vmk1 , 6/1/12 10:26 PM

My hope in earlier years, and still, is for Rafa to win the AO and the US open once more, completing two career slams. It almost has happened already. Time will tell if it will.

chlorostoma , 6/1/12 10:34 PM

similar to Wimby 2008? Yes, in terms of almost winning despite the other one playing better, and a very long match. But also different. Novak had already won the AO before, twice. Rafa had only made the Wimbledon final twice before and only once had come anywhere near a possibility of a win. And grass was Federer best surface while Rafa had only in the previous two years been getting better on it, while at the AO the surface favored Novak I'd say, certainly it was not Rafa's best, i.e. had it been RG instead.

chlorostoma , 6/1/12 10:43 PM

Hmm yeah, thought you would point out the best surface argument. Another similarity is that I never thought Rafa would let up after being ahead in the final set just like the Fed fans must have thought that Fed would not after coming back from 2 sets down and serving first in the final set.

vmk1 , 6/1/12 10:51 PM

AHA!! Spot on nny, chloro.....................I absolutely agree, Rafa has been evolving. A lot of people have been hung up on Rafa 2008 but I would scratch my head and think: yeah, he had his clay court game down pat, his grass court game was also shaping up nicely but his hard court game was still a work in progress. So for me, there has been this evolution to an all-court court game.................and it all came together at Oz2012. I still maintain that at Oz2012, Rafa lost the battle (the match) but he won the war..........that, was the turning point.

Rafa 2012 is better than Rafa 2008 whichever way you look at it. Not only has he improved his technique, his game aptitude has also improved. His game changes according to the surface and opponent. Novak2012 may not be close to Novak2011, biut he sure as hell is way better than Novak2008. So, the competition has intensified. I believe Rafa2012 will reveal to us a new improved Rafa who will be the best player out there.

This has been my basis for saying Rafa will take RG, Wimby, the Olympics and USOpen this year. Call me a crazy fan, I don't care................

I truly believe.

Let's where Rafa is 2 Sundays from now....................

I am absolutely convinced that I will be vindicated.

rafaisthebest , 6/1/12 11:01 PM

RG, Wimby,Oly and FM wow.. That would be something. Hope he can sneak a WTF while nobody is watching :D
One tourney and one match at a time RITB:)

vmk1 , 6/1/12 11:06 PM

^^^but of course!!

Next up.....Mr. Schwank.........

rafaisthebest , 6/1/12 11:12 PM


Thanks for your kind comment! I appreciate it because I didn't know how my comments would be received. I have been thinking about this for a while and finally after seeing Rafa against Istomin, I thought the time was right to post my thoughts.

The 2008 Rafa has been the standard by which he has been measured. We know how dominant he was at RG that year and then the triumphant win at Wimbledon to complete the channel slam. Those were heady days! Rafa dethroned Fed in his own kingdom. There was a new #1 who arrived.

Of course the 2008 Rafa was phenomenal. His speed was unmatched and that will to win, that fearlessness and determination was in full force. When I first saw Rafa at the 2008 Wimbledon, I realized that Rafa didn't get mad or discouraged after that tough 2007 final loss to Fed, he got better! His game on grass was so good he slashed through his opponents to get his final matchup with Fed. He was really in outstanding form.

However in the 2009 AO, we saw Rafa come out on hard court and start moving more into the net, hitting volleys for winners. Again I thought to myself - Rafa has worked on his hard court game and is even better. We all remember how he used his wicked angled cc backhand to devastating effect in the 2009 final against Fed. He also exposed Fed's weakness in that match - his backhand. Rafa showed the world how to beat Fed. That match was a monumental achievement. I still say that I don't know how Rafa found the strength after that marathon battle in the semis against Verdasco. Yet he was the one who broke Fed mentally. Even after losing the fourth set, he came out in the fifth set and played even harder. I think Fed probably thought at some point Rafa would be done in by fatigue. But Rafa just would not give up. That's when Fed cracked and Rafa won the fifth set easily.


Thanks for your kind words. It's good to know that other Rafa fans see what I have seen. Rafa may not have the pure speed that he had in 2008 before that terrible knee tendinitis in 2009 that would cost him so dearly. But he has improved in so many areas. So many said that he would never win the USO because of its fast hard court surface. But Rafa came out with the big serve and managed to pull it off.

I am trying to take it one match at a time. But it's hard not to smile and feel great after watching Rafa against Istomin. I know that he is not the kind of player who can really challenge him on clay, but there is no denying that look in Rafa's eyes, the strut of confidence and belief, the incredible will and determination.

Last year I thought I would lose Rafa to the fate of Borg. It was tearing me to pieced inside. I didn't think I could live through that again. But now our Rafa is back! Did you see him crack a slight smile when he was serving for the match against Istomin? That is something you don't see often. Rafa is feeling it!

I do agree that Rafa may have lost the battle at this year's AO, but he won the war. He found a way to beat Nole again and got the monkey off his back. He has found the fun and the passion. How many times did we hear Rafa say last year - I just have to play with more calm? But he couldn't do it. Now he says that he is calm. That alone tells me a lot. It's all about mental strength and belief. See how Rafa is playing such great tennis now that he is feeling good about himself and is happy?

We are truly blessed. I am just going to enjoy this journey. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself. But we can dream good dreams when we go to sleep at night these days! :)

Nativenewyorker , 6/2/12 12:10 AM


Please accept my apologies for not typing your name correctly! :)

Nativenewyorker , 6/2/12 12:13 AM

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