LiveAnalysis: Rafael Nadal vs Roger Federer in the 2014 Australian Open Semifinals

Welcome to another installment of LiveAnalysis! Today we have the thirty-third meeting between World No. 1 Rafael Nadal and World No. 6 Roger Federer. The head-to-head stands 22-10 in favor of Nadal, who’s won the last 4 matches they’ve played.

Remember to refresh this page often, as I will be providing game-by-game analysis throughout the match!

As in previous LiveAnalysis posts, I’ll be using a bit of “tennis shorthand” today. Here’s your glossary:

BH: Backhand
BP: Break Point
CC: Cross-court
DF: Double-fault
DTL: Down the line (means the same as “up the line”)
FH: Forehand
GP: Game Point
I-I: Inside-In
I-O: Inside-Out
SP: Set Point
S&V: Serve and Volley
SW: Service Winner
UFE: Unforced Error

No preamble – let’s just jump into the action!

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First Set – Roger Federer will serve first.

0*-0: Federer starts with his trusty slider out wide. Not a very good one, but Nadal misses the return anyway. 15-0. Federer then moves Nadal side to side, goes for a big FH, draws the error. Later, a SW into the body, 40-0. Nadal then sends a floating return as Federer came to net, and it lands in. 40-15. SW into the body again, a hold.

Interesting pattern by Federer – he doesn’t really use that body serve all that much. Definitely caught Nadal by surprise. It’s a good idea, since it’s another alternative from the Deuce court, which could open up the slider (which is the main weapon).

1-0*, Federer: By the 40-0 point, Nadal has already hit 2 SW (both up the T, to Federer’s BH). The other two points, as Nadal clinches the hold to love, were Federer BH UFEs.

Federer’s BH is, per usual, the pressure area (and the stroke to monitor) all match. The new racquet has given him a little bit more control (and confidence), but this is the ultimate challenge for that shot.

1*-1: Nadal sends an unremarkable CC FH to Federer’s BH, and Federer steps in to fire a great CC BH that forces the error. That’s a good sign for him – he cannot afford to get bullied on that side. However, Federer then comes to net behind a mediocre FH approach, and Nadal has ample time to blast away a FH DTL pass Federer can’t control. 30-30. Federer ends up holding after he aptly chases down a Nadal letcord and handles Nadal’s resulting counter-dropper.

So far, Federer’s net forays haven’t been all that successful, and I don’t think many will be surprised at that. Nadal might go down as the best passer in history, since he’s able to hit great passing shots off either wing from any part of the court.

One key area to focus on: Nadal’s depth on his BH. So far, there hasn’t been much of it.

2-1*, Federer: Federer survives a Nadal pass, and then brings the World No. 1 to net with a short return and passes him. 0-30. However, Nadal ends up hitting two great passing shots in the next point, so 15-30. At this juncture, Federer has a BH DTL lined up from inside the court…but sends it long. Key UFE  – but not one out of passive play, at least. 30-30. Then  a FH approach UFE by the Swiss, so Nadal has a GP. Then, on a 2nd serve return, Federer runs around his BH, and fires an I-I FH return winner. However, in the next point, Nadal hammers Federer’s BH with some good FHs, and it produces the error when Federer wants to go CC. Nadal then clinches the hold with a classy swinging volley after a good FH DTL had set it up.

That BH DTL miss at 0-30 seems like an obvious point to highlight from that game. It wasn’t particularly close, but had that shot been properly executed, 3 BPs could’ve been produced.

2*-2: Extremely easy love hold for Federer. Nadal missed two returns in that game, though the last one was a pretty aggressive FH DTL swing.

It has to be said that both men seemed to be playing with a somewhat cautious attitude. Nobody is going for too much, yet they’ve both established some of the schemes they’ll be using along the way.

3-2*, Federer: Nadal thoroughly outmaneuvers Federer to go up 30-0, yanking him from side to side and forcing a desperation running FH error. Another BH UFE by Federer seals the hold by love.

3*-3: At 0-15, a slightly missed opportunity for Nadal, who gets a good, deep 2nd serve return in, but moments later sends a tame (and short) CC BH straight to Federer’s FH, who doesn’t miss. Nadal then sends a CC BH return winner past an approaching Federer, and then passes him again with a FH DTL. 15-40, double Break Point. The first BP is missed when Nadal somehow misses a BH pass that was easier than the previous two he did hit correctly. 30-40. Federer saves the next one with a big FH after a short and loopy Nadal return. Rafael then has a chance to generate another BP, but sends a BH DTL well wide. Federer then hits an ill-advised I-O FH, which Nadal aptly sends DTL and forces the error. Slider out wide Ace gives Federer another GP, which is converted when Nadal wildly mishits a BH.

Another obvious instance to highlight – Nadal seemed perfectly poised to break there (indeed, got to 15-40 in what seemed like the blink of an eye), but missed a relatively straightforward BH pass at 15-40. We’ll see what effects that has on the Spaniard’s psyche when he tries to hold next.

4-3*, Federer: Roger narrowly misses a CC FH, and it’s 40-15. It’s 40-30 after Federer smartly hits a FH DTL behind Nadal. Then, the game is clinched with a ridiculous FH DTL by Nadal when fully out-stretched by a very good CC BH by Federer. Has to be dispiriting for Roger, who did plenty to win that point.

This upcoming Federer service game feels like make or break for the Swiss.

4*-4: A missed BH 2nd serve return by Nadal makes it 15-0. Pretty cheap gift in crunch time. However, Federer gifts it right back with a DF, his 1st of the match. Then, Nadal sends two very loopy (but deep) shots to Federer’s AD court, and forces the error. 15-30. Clutch Ace out wide, 30-30. Then, Federer with a strange service placement decision: instead of going out wide with his slider, he goes up the middle, but tamely. Later, he misses another BH. 30-40, Break Point. It’s saved when Nadal sends a short FH off a slight letcord by Federer, and the Swiss then goes big I-I with his FH. A big CC FH gives Federer a GP. A Nadal FH UFE seals the game.

Nadal now has had 3 BPs, and you could argue that he should’ve done better in 2 of them. Interestingly enough, these missed opportunities have usually been for Federer over the years of this rivalry. Roles have been reversed a bit here.

However, one thing is clear: Rafael Nadal is looking pretty sharp. Miles better than against Grigor Dimitrov and Kei Nishikori. And Federer does not look like the overwhelming force of the Tsonga and the first set of the Murray matches.

5-4*, Federer: Two very shaky UFEs by Nadal at 30-0 – first a BH slice DTL that doesn’t come close to clearing the net, and then a regulation FH that sails way long. 30-30. But then Federer cracks with a FH DTL UFE in the early instances of a rally. 40-30. A classy Ace out wide seals the hold for Nadal.

That FH DTL by Federer….man, was that a key point or what? What should be said is that Nadal was close enough to cover the shot had it gone it – it wasn’t like the BH DTL from earlier, that was lined up into a very open court.

5*-5: Short returns by Nadal translate into a 40-0 lead for Federer. However, a first deep return triggers a Roger error, so 40-15. Ace up the T, and the easy hold is sealed.

One thing Nadal hasn’t done yet is use his I-O FH much. He’s been happy to pummel Federer’s BH with CC FHs, and it’s been a successful enough scheme to warrant any tweaking. As for Roger, he’s been coming to net more frequently than in previous matches against Nadal, but it doesn’t feel like it’s been more than against Tsonga or Murray earlier in the week. Federer has done well the few times that he’s peppered the Nadal BH with some good CC FHs. Short balls have resulted from that.

6-5*, Federer: A very long, interesting rally ends in a predictable way: a Federer BH UFE. Nadal for once unleashes the I-O FH after a short BH by Federer. Later, a wild FH UFE by Federer makes it 40-0. A great BH return by Federer leads to a great CC FH that forces Nadal’s error, so 40-30. However, a SW out wide (to Federer’s BH), seals the hold. Tiebreak time!

Tiebreaker – Roger Federer will serve first.

0*-0: Weird first point: Federer seemed to mishit a FH DTL, but Nadal’s desperation CC FH ends up yanking Federer well wide, and forcing the error. MINIBREAK.

0-1*, Nadal: Nadal returns the minibreak with a BH DTL UFE. He had Federer on the string there, and missed a shot I’m not sure he was forced to hit. MINIBREAK.

1*-1: A Federer UFE seals it – it was an ambitious I-O BH (!).

1*-2, NadalNadal gets an OK pass after he gets in trouble after a short, short return, but Federer botches the volley. MINIBREAK.

1*-3, NadalSome extraordinary BHs from Nadal trigger an error. Nice depth, nice pace. MINIBREAK.

1-4*, NadalAnother Federer missed BH, after Nadal yanks him from side to side, forcing a BH on the run.

1-5*, NadalSlight opening for Federer, as Nadal misses a short (but tricky – it was low and hard) FH. MINIBREAK.

2*-5, Nadal: 2nd serve…Federer hits a good one, then a great I-O FH, and finishes with a dropper + volley combo. Classy point.

3*-5, Nadal: 2nd serve… wild BH return by Nadal.

4-5*, Nadal: Bread, meet butter – slider out wide from the AD court by Nadal, followed by a thundering I-O FH. Set Point #1.

4-6*, Nadal: 2nd serve… Federer survives a Nadal I-O FH onslaught, only to later send a BH DTL well long.

First Set to Rafael Nadal, 7-6 (4).

Here are your Set 1 Stats:

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Second Set – Rafael Nadal will serve first.

0*-0: Another huge 30-30 point that Federer fails to execute properly. The Swiss had Nadal on the run and well behind the baseline, came forward to put it away with a FH swinging volley…and he nets it. Moments later, Nadal hammers Federer’s BH, the error doesn’t come, so the Spaniard finishes the point with a classy BH dropper.

Now, some drama: Nadal calls for the trainer to try and help with his blister. Per the recent matches from the World No. 1, we get a visual:

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1-0*, Nadal: Wild Nadal FH UFE, so 30-0. Federer has screamed “Come on!” after the first 2 points. But then Nadal hits a crazy, insane CC BH return winner from well outside the court. 30-15. But another wild FH by Nadal makes it 40-15. Then, some insane volleying from Federer clinches the game. As we see in the slo-mo replay, Federer’s eyes weren’t even open for the last volley.

Again, something to monitor is Nadal’s depth with the CC BH. Federer has been able to get some very good CC FHs off of short ones, almost immediately triggering errors.

1*-1: Extremely easy love hold for Nadal. A couple of missed returns here, a few UFEs there.

2-1*, Nadal: Federer comes to net rather speculatively at 0-0, gets summarily passed. Then, a BH UFE, so 0-30. Danger time for Roger. Wild BH DTL UFE by Nadal – again, no reason to go for that shot at that point – Federer was in good position to cover it, and Nadal was pulled wide. 15-30. A short return allows for a huge I-O FH by Federer, 30-30. Then, an extremely cheap FH DTL UFE by Federer, after a long Deuce court exchange. 30-40, Break Point. It is saved with a great SW up the T. Nadal then with a masterful CC BH that opens up a very, very easy BH DTL winner into a wide open court. AD Nadal, Break Point. Nadal will regret an extremely short return off a Federer 2nd serve. Moments later, Federer smashes the ball into the stands. Federer then gets Roddicked, and his speculative approach gets him summarily passed once again. AD Nadal, Break Point. However, Federer gets a good serve out wide, a short return, and punishes an I-I FH. Classy SW out wide, so for once, Federer has a GP. A short Nadal return brings Federer to net…and gets him passed. Then another GP comes after a fantastic FH winner by Federer off a deep return by Nadal. Federer slightly mishits a FH, it’s called out, but a challenge shows it was in. Federer escapes.

These missed BP chances by Nadal should be easier to digest: no groundstrokes were missed, and the serves that triggered short returns were very good. Unlike the BPs from the 1st set.

2*-2: We get 2 FH shanks by Federer, and then a beautiful, stunning CC BH winner by Nadal when fully out-stretched. 40-0. An Ace up the T seals the very easy hold.

No BPs have been generated by Federer. Zero.

3-2*, Nadal: Two quick UFEs by Federer make it 0-30. However, a very well executed S&V play makes it 15-30. Then, just as you thought Federer played a glorious volley, Nadal somehow gets a FH pass to go over the net. 15-40, Double Break Point. The first is saved with a good wide serve that triggers a short return, which is punished. 30-40. 2nd serve… a weird point ensues, where Nadal starts off with some frightening pace, then slows down, only to finish with a fierce I-O FH winner. Break for Nadal, finally!

You cannot say that wasn’t deserved, or that it was a surprise. Federer had been going off the boil since the end of the 1st set, even complaining about Nadal’s grunting to Jake Garner. Grunting. After playing the guy 32 times.

4*-2, Nadal: Nadal races to a 30-0 lead, only to hit his 1st DF of the match. 30-15. Thundering CC FHs force Roger’s error, and it’s 40-15. A SW up the T seals the consolidating hold.

5-2*, Nadal: Extremely simple and quick love hold for Federer, who has to break to avoid going down two sets to love to a man who’s 136-0 when winning the first 2 sets at a Slam.

5*-3, Nadal: Federer survives a barrage of shots to his BH, and Nadal ends up missing a BH DTl of his own. 0-15. Then, a 2nd ball UFE by Nadal, after a good return. 0-30. Then, Rafael avoids disaster, as he can’t put away a simple smash, and then a simple volley, but Federer can’t get the resulting FH pass over the net. 15-30. Nadal then hammers Federer’s BH again, the Swiss finally goes for a big CC BH…but it’s not big enough – Nadal fires a FH DTL winner. 30-30. Meek I-I FH UFE by Federer, and it’s Set Point for Nadal. A very good slider 2nd serve ends up returned into the net by Federer, and Nadal is up 2 sets to 0.

Second Set to Rafael Nadal, 6-3.

Here are your Set 2 Stats:

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Third Set – Roger Federer will serve first.

0*-0: Extremely easy love hold for Roger. That was sorely needed.

1-0*, Federer:  At 15-15, Federer gets a look at a makeable volley, but nets it. 30-15. Ace up the T makes it 40-15. BH UFE by Federer ends a simple game for Nadal.

1*-1: At 0-0, Federer gets summarily passed after another mediocre approach. Later, a wild BH after a very good DTL return by Nadal makes it 15-30. A big I-O FH by Federer clips the net, and lands out. 15-40, Double Break Point. 2nd serve… and after another mediocre approach, Federer can’t handle Nadal’s pass. Nadal is up a break!

Nadal is firmly in control of this match. Has a death grip on it, really. And the air seems to have gone out of Federer.

1-2*, Nadal: Nadal misses a regulation FH to start the game, and then can’t put away a tricky short FH later. 15-30. Nadal then misfires on an I-O FH into the wide open court. 15-40, Double Break Point. Federer then barely misses a 1st serve return – he challenges to no avail. 30-40. After Nadal hits a few CC FHs into Federer’s BH, Federer escapes, and triggers Nadal’s 4th FH UFE of the game.

That…came out of nowhere. Unbelievably sloppy service game by Nadal – you just cannot hit 4 FH UFEs and expect to hold.

2*-2: It’s 15-30 after Roger misses a FH long. He does the same thing again, and is down 15-40, Double Break Point. First BP is saved by a very good slider out wide SW. 30-40. This one appeared to be saved by a huge Ace out wide, but Nadal challenges and it’s shown to be out. However, Rafael botches a very makeable 2nd serve return. Another S&V play by Federer, correctly executed. GP. SW out wide, and the break has been consolidated.

Nadal has been uncharacteristically sloppy in this third set – he broke himself, and then missed that 2nd serve return on BP in the last game. Credit to Federer, who’s come back to life and seems to be newly committed to his net approaches. The difference in that last game? The serves that he followed in were very, very good (except maybe the 2nd serve at 30-40).

3-2*, Federer: Nadal goes up 40-0 in a heartbeat. Moments later, he holds the love hold.

3*-3: At 15-0, Federer once again decides to ill-advisedly approach Nadal’s FH when Nadal is standing right in his FH corner. He gets passed. Later, he misses a FH DTL so it’s 30-30. Then, a short return can’t be put over the net, so 30-40, Break Point. Another short return isn’t taken advantage of – Federer’s lunging FH clips the net, and lands out. Break for Nadal again.

3-4*, Nadal: Federer blasts an I-I FH 2nd serve return that Nadal can’t handle. Not surprisingly, RF’s aggression has been quite rare when returning 2nd serves – that’s only the 2nd time he’s attempted that. Anyway, at 30-15, Roger hits a very good CC BH winner, but follows it up with a tame BH UFE. A very good BH DTL 2nd serve return by Federer is wasted when he can’t put the resulting BH swinging volley over the net. Nadal finally consolidates the break.

3-5*, Nadal: At 15-0, Nadal runs around his BH for a 2nd serve return, and fires a huge I-O FH return winner. Federer comes to net behind a good serve at 30-15, doesn’t do enough with the volley, but Nadal’s BH pass is barely wide. Rafael then hits his 2nd return winner of the game – this time with a BH DTL from way outside the court. Another poor approach gets Federer passed once again, so Deuce. A fantastic CC BH return by Nadal can’t be handled by Federer, and it’s AD Nadal, Match Point #1. Federer saves it with a good I-I FH. Federer then S&Vs again, and just as he thought he had Nadal beat, Rafael fires a FH DTL pass for a winner. AD Nadal, Match Point #2. 2nd serve… wilde FH UFE by Federer, and this is mercifully over.

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Game, Set and Match to Rafael Nadal, 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-3.

Here are your full match stats:

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Juan José loves a well struck backhand down the line, statistics that tell a story, a nice lob winner, and competent returns of serve.

4 Responses

  1. Francisco Vallejo
    Francisco Vallejo January 24, 2014 at 6:24 am |

    Hola Juan; estoy en Ginebra y he visto poco el torneo de Australia pero si he leído la pagina de ustedes que ha estado muy buena, espero hayan tenido mucho trafico.
    Estamos en contacto, saludes a Amy.

  2. Enrique
    Enrique January 24, 2014 at 6:36 am |

    Hola Juanjo,

    Gracias por tu blog, es verdaderamente interesante y enriquecedor para los que amamos el tenis. Como buen mallorquin sigo muy de cerca a Rafael. Hoy he sentido la tranquilidad que radiaba Rafael durante todo el partido, como si ya hubiera sabido desde el principio – con todo el respeto para Roger – de que iba a ganarlo. Lo conoce demasiado bien. Roger ha empezado queriendo olividar el pasado. Tras perder el tie break, ha dado la sensacion de que ha vuelto a sentir esa impotencia lo que lleva ya sintiendo desde hace años cuando juega partidos importantes contra Rafael. Se le veía en la cara. Su tenis no es suficiente para derrotar a los dos primeros del ranking, salvo en raras excepciones. Enfin, esperemos que la final del domingo sea algo mas entretenida que la de hoy.

    Saludos

  3. RafaLint: January 24th - Nadal News
    RafaLint: January 24th - Nadal News January 24, 2014 at 4:46 pm |

    […] LiveAnalysis: Rafael Nadal vs Roger Federer in the 2014 Australian Open Semifinals – by Juan José (changeovertennis.com) […]

  4. aachoo crony
    aachoo crony January 24, 2014 at 9:40 pm |

    I heard that there were some passing shots from Fed’s net approach? missed that!
    Passing shots are a beauty to behold.I thought Nadal erased that shot from modern day tennis? Back to the days of Pet vs Agassi for just a day.
    Thats what happens when you more than just own a shot. It becomes useless since you seldom have the opportunity to use it. I mean if Nadal was somewhat less good at it like Agassi he could profit from it immensely with a + rating. The net approach was no doubt Edberg’s idea along with the fact that Fed had little other options. He should have known better and had to be reminded about this basic modern day tennis lesson.

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