Welcome to another installment of LiveAnalysis! Today’s match-up will feature a man who is on a 13 match winning streak, Ernests Gulbis, and a man playing just his second hard court match in almost a year: two-time Indian Wells champion Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard comes into this match with only one hard court win under his belt, since Leonardo Mayer withdrew before their third round match started. Gulbis is the complete opposite, as he’s won 13 straight hard court matches. Curiously, those 13 wins span only two tournaments: the underachieving Latvian had to win 8 matches just to hoist the Delray Beach title, and then had to play qualies again at Indian Wells just to get into the main draw.
Today’s match will mark the fifth time that the 24 year-old from Latvia and the 26 year-old from Mallorca face off on the ATP tour. This is what their head-to-head looks like:
Here are a few noteworthy things about their four previous matches:
– Gulbis and Nadal have played on three different surfaces, and their two hard court matches have taken place on indoor hard as well as outdoor hard. It’s pretty amazing that they haven’t played on the same conditions more than once, given that they’ve played each other four times.
– As you can see, Gulbis has taken a set from Nadal in 3 of the 4 matches, including that semifinal encounter in Rome three years ago. That tournament was important for Gulbis, since it represented his best result ever at a Masters 1000, which included a win over Roger Federer. The Swiss was ranked #1 in the World back then, too.
– Gulbis also took a set off Nadal during the Spaniard’s run to the 2008 Wimbledon trophy. Which is interesting.
– They’ve played two tiebreakers, and unsurprisingly, Nadal has won them both.
Three Things to Watch For:
1. Can Nadal get consistent depth on his groundstrokes? As Gulbis mentioned, the top 4 guys hit the heaviest ball. However, if Nadal isn’t getting any depth, his ball doesn’t push anybody back, and Gulbis will have an easier time picking his spots to unload. However, if Nadal can consistently put Gulbis on the defensive, the Latvian’s streak of 13 wins in 17 days will be in danger.
2. Who can return serve better? Gulbis is not a great returner of serve, and Nadal usually needs a few tournaments to get his return timing on hard courts just right. Whoever can put the most pressure on the other’s serve will have a huge edge in this match. Nadal will have the toughest task, since Gulbis’ delivery is huge, and the man on the long winning streak has been using his serve very, very well.
3. How well can the Gulbis’ “Jazz Hands” forehand fare today? The extremely unorthodox stroke has looked to suffer when the Latvian gets rushed on that side. Nadal will do well to direct as many heavy forehands as he can to break down that particular shot. On the other hand, if Gulbis can make that stroke work for him, he’ll surely reap the benefits.
Remember to refresh this page often, as I will be providing game-by-game updates throughout the match!
The men are on the court, so we should be starting soon!
Rafa bouncing like a boxer. Gulbis looking like he just rolled out of bed. Sounds about right. #BNPPO13
— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) March 14, 2013
First Set – Ernests Gulbis will serve first .
0-0: Nadal starts with a FH UFE up at net when he had pushed Gulbis back with his FH. Moments later, Gulbis holds at love. A good start for him.
1-0, Gulbis: Nadal makes only one mistake in his service game. A comfortable hold to 15 ensues.
“He has come up with a very idiosyncratic hitchy forehand,” says Justin Gimelstob of the Ernests Gulbis praying mantis forehand
— Randy Walker (@TennisPublisher) March 14, 2013
1-1: Gulbis comes up with a pretty forehand early, and Nadal makes a couple of errors afterwards. Gulbis misses a baseline overhead badly, but Gulbis does hold to 30.
Here’s a picture of Gunther Bresnik, Gulbis’ coach:
Nice hat, Gunther!
2-1, Gulbis: It should be said, both men are hitting the ball quite well. Nadal hitting it better than expected, given his lack of hard court play. The King of Clay holds to 15 after a thundering BH DTL winner.
2-2: Nadal is having quite a bit of success moving Gulbis around. Gets to 30-all, but a Latvian service winner gives Gulbis the chance to hold. However, a lot of deep Nadal shots force the error, and we’re at the first deuce of the match. That was a 19 shot rally, dominated by Nadal. Still, Gulbis holds after a very nice dropper + passing shot combo.
STATS UPDATE: So far, Nadal has only 25% of the winners of this match (2 of 8)…but only 25% of the unforced errors (also 2 of 8). He’s yet to lose a point on his 2nd serve, and has only lost two points on serve overall.
3-2, Gulbis: Gulbis steps in to blast an inside-out FH return winner to make it 30-all. But he nets the same shot in the next point, on the ball after Nadal’s first shot. A Nadal service winner seals the hold.
3-3: Gulbis holds at love, without much bother. Nadal missed a few shots there, but the Latvian was very, very solid.
Nice crowd for what should be the last match of the day session at Stadium 1:
4-3, Gulbis: Gulbis starts the game with his 2nd return winner of the match, off of a Nadal 2nd serve. This could be an interesting development. Another Gulbis deep return sets up 15-30. Ernests barely misses a CC BH, challenges, and is proven wrong. 30-all. Another BH error gives Nadal a game point, and a short return allows the Manacor man to put away a simple FH for the hold.
The most under-rated part of Ernests Gulbis game is his court speed. For a big guy he can fly around the court. Footwork has also improved.
— Darren Cahill (@darren_cahill) March 14, 2013
STATS UPDATE: Through eight games, Gulbis has served 70% 1st serves, and won 94% of those points. 15 out of 16. This is a very favorable situation for the man on the 13-match winning streak.
4-4: An impressive hold at love for Gulbis, who seems to be playing better and better. Nadal, on the other hand, doesn’t look as sharp as in the beginning, and his 1st serve is starting to abandon him.
5-4, Gulbis: A couple of very poor points by Nadal at 30-15 give Gulbis a set point. Gulbis gets a deep return off a second serve, and Nadal completely overcooks the forehand. Gulbis breaks to take the first set!
First Set to Ernests Gulbis, 6-4.
Here are your full 1st set stats:
Second Set – Ernests Gulbis will serve first .
0-0: Nadal bosses Gulbis around with a couple of deep BHs, puts away a FH, and it’s 15-30. Gulbis then misses a FH wildly, and Nadal finally has chances to break. 15-40. First one is saved with a missile up the T. 30-40. A big inside out FH saves the other. Deuce #1. A wild, wild Jazz Hands FH miss gives Nadal a 3rd BP, however. And then…disaster strikes for Gulbis, as a very, very deep defensive lob by Nadal is badly handled by the Latvian who smashes it well long. Nadal with the early break!
Two straight breaks of serve…what do you know?
Gulbis returns the favor of breaking himself on BP.
— amylu (@amylu_sports) March 14, 2013
1-0, Nadal: Nadal botches a volley, leading to a nice Gulbis lob and putaway. 15-30, but a service winner makes it 30-all. Nadal goes to his trusty CC FH, and triggers an error. 40-30. Rinse and repeat, and Nadal consolidates the break.
STATS UPDATE: Gulbis is responsible for 74% of the winners…and 61% of the unforced errors. Has won 4 more baseline points than Nadal, who might want to turn that deficit around.
2-0, Nadal: At 30-15, Nadal hit a most ridiculous DTL FH winner. Gulbis could do nothing more than applaud. Amazing shot. But Gulbis puts away a volley, and it’s 40-30. Gulbis clinches the hold after Nadal overcooks another FH DTL.
2-1, Nadal: Gulbis with his 3rd return winner, another inside out FH blast. 30-all. That was clocked at 102 miles per hour. The serve had clocked 95 mph. Gulbis’ Jazz Hands FH goes on the rampage again, and suddenly he has a chance to break back. 30-40. Gulbis misses a return way long, and it’s deuce. However, Nadal double-faults. He challenges, and it was barely, BARELY out. Within the Hawk-eye margin of error. In the next point, Gulbis’ CC BH clips the net, Nadal seems to have an easy FH…but he nets it. Gulbis breaks back!
2-2: Gulbis gets lucky with a letcord winner at 15-all, but needs no such thing when he blasts two straight aces to consolidate the break at 15.
So far this has been a very entertaining match. Gulbis is dialed in, and is looking the part of a top 10 player. The FH isn’t crumbling, he’s serving at a very, very good percentage of 1st serves, and he’s still leading in the baseline points category. Nadal will need to come up with something special to overcome the streaking underachiever.
And here is a graph detailing a problematic trend for Nadal – he should be going more and more to the Jazz Hands FH:
3-2, Gulbis: At 40-30, Gulbis plays a bad dropper, and Nadal makes him pay for it. This ends up being a semi-comfortable hold to 30 for the Nike man, after starting the game with a double fault.
3-3: Two bad Jazz Hands UFEs, plus a bad serve & volley attempt suddenly give Nadal a triple BP. Gulbis kicks the ball in frustration, and gets booed. Then, a fantastic 1st serve return by Nadal triggers a short ball that he ably puts away. Nadal with the break!
I have to say, Nadal has played way better than I expected. This man has only played one prior hard court match before tonight, and it doesn’t really show. Yes, he had his rough patches, but his high notes have been quite impressive. The two-time Indian Wells champ is two games away from forcing a deciding set.
4-3, Nadal: Nadal gets a time violation after a brutal rally (horrible call), then slips, but ends up consolidating the break at 30. An eventful game.
5-3, Nadal: Gulbis seems to be hitting a physical wall – a tired looking FH UFE gives Nadal two set points. 15-40. Both are saved, but a good Nadal return triggers a third set point for Nadal. The set point goes begging once again, as Gulbis sends a blistering FH on his second ball. An Ace gives Ernests a chance to hold, and he does after a service winner.
5-4, Nadal: Gulbis starts with a very good BH DTL that Nadal can’t return. Nadal then pummels Gulbis’ BH, and levels the game. A bad Gulbis UFE puts Nadal two points away from taking the set, and a Gulbis errant BH makes it 40-15. A service winner by Nadal levels the match. Onto Set 3!
Second Set to Rafael Nadal, 6-4.
Here are your second set stats:
Third Set – Ernests Gulbis will serve first .
0-0: In the blink of an eye, Gulbis is up 40-0. Moments later, Gulbis holds to 15. A much better start for the Latvian
And here is an interesting graph of Nadal’s ball-striking:
1-0, Gulbis: Gulbis, smartly, starts being aggressive with his BH. That’s his best shot, and he can generate pace with it easily. And just as a type that, he sends a BH DTL well wide, rambles to nobody in particular, and falls back 40-30. Nadal pummels his BH, then sends an inside-out FH that shouldn’t been a winner, but Gulbis’ impressive movement allows him to try a desperation lob that fails. A hold to 30 for Nadal.
At the end of the game, Nadal gets a coaching violation, after the line judge claims he heard directions to Nadal after the game ended. Nadal asks if the line judge understands Spanish. It doesn’t seem like it. The man from Manacor is not happy with the chair umpire, to say the least.
1-1: Gulbis holds at love. Nadal is clearly rattled by that angry exchange with the chair.
During the changeover, Nadal’s argument with the umpire continues. The chair umpire says that if the line judge hears that Nadal’s coach tells him to play to Gulbis’ BH, he has to give Nadal a coaching violation.
Nadal has been hitting to Gulbis’ BH all match. There’s a graph above that proves it. WHAT A BREATHTAKING TACTICAL PIECE OF WISDOM, TELL NADAL TO HIT TO GULBIS’ BH.
2-1, Gulbis: The men trade FH blows, and it’s Gulbis’ FH that triggers Nadal’s error – 15-30. The Latvian lines up a BH DTL, and barely misses wide. Would’ve been a winner. Gulbis then comes up with a bad, bad Jazz Hands FH UFE, and punches the strings on his racquet. However, a very good inside-out FH brings up Deuce #1. Gulbis gets a look at a pass, and misses. In related news, his knuckles are bleeding. Moments later, it’s Deuce #2 when Nadal nets a FH. Gulbis then sends a very, very deep return, forces the error, and has his first BP of the third set. The BP is saved by a very smart lefty body serve that jams Gulbis completely. Gulbis then misses another BH DTL, and then nets a CC BH. Nadal hangs on.
STATS UPDATE: Nadal now has a slender lead in the baseline points category, and has 30% of the winners of the match, along with 42% of the UFEs. The biggest problem? Nadal is winning only 38% of 2nd serve points. In that same category, Gulbis is achieving a much better rate of 47%.
2-2: The Jazz Hands FH comes up huge for Gulbis at 15-all: two splendid winners off that wing give him two chances to hold. Gulbis botches the first, but takes the second with a service winner.
Gulbis is now getting treatment for his self-inflicted wound.
Punching the strings is:1. Annoying (bleeding wont stop)2. Dumb (just cause it is)Speaking from experience.
— Amer Delic (@AmerDelic) March 14, 2013
3-2, Gulbis: Gulbis comes up with his fourth return winner of the match at 15-0. This time, it was a BH DTL. He goes for the same shot on yet another bad Nadal 2nd serve, but misses wide. 30-15. A framed FH by Nadal makes it 30-all. However, the classic medicine of bombing somebody’s BH with his FH works wonders for Nadal, who has a chance to hold. However, after a Gulbis shot was incorrectly called out, Nadal can’t handle a return, and it’s Deuce. Moments later, Nadal carves some space for his FH DTL, and does not miss when he goes for it. Beauty of a shot. The next point is a variation of the last, as Nadal pummels Gulbis with his FH, until Gulbis sends a FH of his own quite long.
3-3: Nadal comes up with an incredible inside-in FH winner that was just brutal. 40-30. Gulbis doesn’t want to be left behind in terms of great shots, as he hits a beauty of a half-volley dropper to seal the hold.
The momentum seems to be with Gulbis, who is stepping in to punish Nadal’s 2nd serve more often (and more successfully). Can Gulbis execute the right shots at the right time? He seems to be playing the right way, attacking Nadal with a good combination of inside-out FHs, DTL BHs and angled CC BHs. Nadal is doing what he can to find space to finish with his FH DTL and get his inside-out FH to Gulbis’ Jazz Hands FH, but it’s not as easy as it sounds.
4-3, Gulbis: Nadal comes up with two HUGE FHs after a bad FH UFE, so it’s 30-15. Then, his 2nd Ace of the match. Seems like Nadal will be able to hold comfortably, for once. He does, after a great running FH DTL countered a very nice BH DTL return by Gulbis.
It’s crunch time. Can the Jazz Hands survive?
4-4: Gulbis with a FANTASTIC FH volley at 15-0. But follows it up with a DF. 30-15. Then, Gulbis with the get of the match: Nadal leaves a volley a little too long, and Gulbis runs across the entire court to put away a single-handed pass on the run. Amazing effort. 40-15. However, Nadal goes on a BH slice spree, and incredibly, forces the error. Not many of those BH slices were good, mind you. And then…Rafael Nadal happens. The 11-time Major champion comes up with one of his signature FH passing shots from way behind the baseline. Deuce #1. However, it’s AD-Gulbis after the Latvian puts a short FH away. And Gulbis holds after a magnificent BH DTL.
This match…is very, very good. And I have no idea who is going to come out on top.
I don’t understand what’s going on with Gulbis’ forehand but I kinda like it.
— Laura Robson (@laurarobson5) March 14, 2013
5-4, Gulbis: Nadal goes for a BH DTL after a crazy rally, and then overcooks a FH badly. It’s 15-30. Nadal frames a couple of FHs, but Gulbis bails him out by netting an inside-out FH. 30-all. A service winner gives Nadal a game point. Gulbis comes in after a BH DTL approach, and then Nadal can’t get the pass over the net. Then, pure magic from Nadal, as he gets a magnificent sliced BH pass over the net, and follows it in to put away Gulbis’ drop volley. Game point again, and Nadal holds after a Gulbis return is deemed out by Hawk-eye. Nadal had stopped play to challenge the call.
5-5: Nadal gets a look at a short, low-bouncing FH at 0-15, but nets it. An opportunity lost. Then Gulbis ill-advisedly tries to serve and volley…and gets summarily passed. For the next point, Nadal goes vintage, and pummels FH after FH, finishing with an emphatic smash at net. 15-40, double BP. Nadal sends a rather fortunate return deep, and Gulbis nets the 2nd ball with his Jazz Hands FH. Nadal breaks, and will serve for the match!
6-5, Nadal: Nadal starts with a service winner. He’s going to need some 1st serves: he’s still only won 43% of 2nd serve points. Wild Gulbis Jazz Hands FH miss, and it’s 30-0. Rinse and repeat: 40-0. Nadal then with a little blip – had gotten the short ball he wanted, and completely shanked the FH. 40-15. Then….a double fault. 40-30. But then…Rafael Nadal strikes again. Two incredible FHs – one DTL and one CC seal the match.
Rafael Nadal is simply an unbelievable tennis player.
Here are both men at net:
Game, Set and Match to Rafael Nadal, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.
Here are your full match stats:
That was one fantastic match. The tennis world was buzzing about this since both men punched their ticket yesterday, and they certainly did not disappoint. Alas, it’s rather unfortunate that this was only a fourth round match.
It’s impressive how well Rafael Nadal and Ernests Gulbis played tonight. The former had only played two sets of hard court tennis since last year’s Miami M1000, while the latter was playing his 14th match in 18 days. We should’ve seen a struggle between a rusty Nadal and a fatigued Gulbis.
Instead, we got a wonderful dogfight, full of fantastic shot-making, and a fanatical unwillingness to lose. Gulbis was outside the top 100 just two weeks ago, but he sure looked like a veritable top-10 player today. And Rafael Nadal looked like the man who’s won all the many, many things he’s won in his career. More importantly, Nadal looked like the man he was before his knees took him out of the game for seven months.
I’m still impressed by how well Nadal used his backhand today. At points in the second and third sets it seemed like he had a firm grip on that stroke, and was sending deep balls cross-court consistently. Nadal’s forehand was its old self: blistering and merciless in attack, always ready to exact punishment.
I was also very impressed by Ernests Gulbis. Like I wrote above, he looked the part of a top 10 player. He moved around the court beautifully, served extremely well, and played a very smart and aggressive match. Yes, his infamous Jazz Hands forehand crumbled at the very end, but that was after it had done many, many good things for him. As far as I’m concerned, he can go ahead and keep that goofy shot. It’s working better than his old forehand did.
Now comes the hard part for Gulbis: actually getting into that top 10. Let’s remember that he’s had patches of good play before, only to disappear into nothingness soon after. Hopefully being 24 has forced some maturity into him, and he’ll finally be able to join the ranks of the elite members of his generation at the top of the game.
Is this a sure thing? Far from it.
On the other hand, you have Rafael Nadal. The man who’s won almost everything there is to win in the sport of professional tennis still finds way to come out on top of these extremely even battles. He even finds ways to make the inevitable seem impossible: it really did seem like momentum was on Gulbis’ side as the third set got near crunch time. But those are the moments when Rafael Nadal Parera shows his immense quality: he comes up with insane shots over and over again. The perfect shots for the perfect moment.
It’s amazing to thing about the road that Nadal has traveled since that seemingly inexplicable loss to Horacio Zeballos at the Viña Del Mar final. That seems like an age ago. The tentative Spaniard who was barely getting the ball across the net and was getting bullied by an aggressive journeyman is once again the all-time great we’ve been watching for years. Rafael Nadal became Rafael Nadal. Right before our eyes. After playing one match on hard courts in almost a year.
It’s a rare privilege to be a witness to such greatness.