The premise for ThoughtLogs is simple: these are matches that I was very interested in, but due to scheduling issues, I couldn’t watch live. Hence, I’ll keep a log of my observations as I watch the match later in the day.
For these posts, I’ll be using a bit of “tennis shorthand” today. Here’s your glossary:
BP: Break Point
DTL: Down the line (means the same as “up the line”)
GP: Game Point
SP: Set Point
S&V: Serve and Volley
SW: Service Winner
UFE: Unforced Error
Off we go!
1. Man, is the arena packed or what?
Very nice to see so much interest in this match. Janowicz got a nice hand from the crowd. Nadal? A significantly louder one.
2. Time it took for Janowicz to unveil a drop shot? Probably around a minute: it happens in the second point of the match. It actually works. But that is followed by a terrible forehand that flies straight into the middle of the net.
In 2013, Janowicz’ forehand has gone from being his best shot to a slight liability. Strangely enough, his backhand has gone from major liability to a slight strength. The serve oscillates from major weapon to instrument of self-inflicted injury, depending on the day/set/game. The return of serve? That’s always an adventure.
3. At 0-1, 15-30, a missed half-opportunity for Janowicz: he plays a very good point, lines up a forehand down-the-line… and misses it by about a foot. It was the right play, but the execution wasn’t close to being appropriate. Nadal ends up holding to 30.
4. Jerzy Draper, or Don Janowicz?
5. The commentator for this match (for some reason, TennisTV uploaded the solo feed instead of the World feed) says at 2-all that we’ve seen two very easy service games by Janowicz and two struggles by Nadal. He would be right.
However, to my complete lack of surprise, Janowicz finds himself tied at 30-all in the very next service game after two silly errors (including another bad FH UFE into the net). He even challenges this first serve:
It was quite a Federer-esque challenge. However, Janowicz survives after a simply stunning inside-out backhand after a very good Nadal return. It forces the error from the World No. 1, and then a bomb of a serve seals the hold.
I wrote above that I wasn’t surprised to see Janowicz all of a sudden struggle in a service game. Aside from the fact that everyone will have a difficult game every once in a while, Janowicz is unparalleled at going from absolute dominance to inexplicable sloppiness in the blink of an eye. And in 2013, a sad staple of the Pole’s season has been having bad service games at the worst possible times – when serving out a set, staying in a set, etc.
6. Right after Nadal holds for 3-all, we see this graph:
Nadal is one of the best at giving opponents different looks when returning serve. Interesting to see that he’s way up near the baseline for first serves.
However, Janowicz delivers an absolute serving masterclass. He holds to love after blasting 4 straight aces. But what I find interesting is what serves were used:
0-0 – Violent slider out wide
15-0 – Flat out wide
30-0 – Violent slider out wide
40-0 – Flat out wide
True, he only used two different serves (he has quite a few more in the arsenal). But these two are borderline unreturnable when Jerzy executes them properly. This is one of the reasons why I think Janowicz might be the next dominant big server, the heir to Federer’s “minute hold” crown.
That 3-all service game lasted all of 49 seconds.
7. A correct bit of umpiring takes place at 0-0, 3-4. Nadal’s serve is called in (yet shown to be out by Hawk-Eye), but Janowicz waited until his floater of a return landed out to challenge. Good call by Damien Dumusois, who didn’t allow the challenge to go up. It was actually more of a brainfart by Janowicz, because he wasn’t really in a position that would indicate being ready to receive Nadal’s next shot – the Pole just stood there, waiting for his return to finally bounce.
8. Right before Janowicz blasts his 7th ace at 30-0, 4-all, we see this graph:
A point ago, Jerzy served a 234 km/h bomb. The crowd goes nuts when the speed is shown. Moments later, as Janowicz holds to love, he walks to his chair and flexes his bicep. He smiles, and then raises his fist from the chair as the 234 km/h flashes in the jumbotron. He’s happy.
Yet he won’t win another game in this set.
9. At 30-15, 5-4, Janowicz blasts a cross-court FH winner, and we see this graph:
Yet that was the lone highlight for Janowicz in a game full of Nadal excellence.
10. I know Janowicz gets broken here, but it sure doesn’t look like it based on the first two points. He starts this 5-all game by hitting a gorgeous dropper and putting away the resulting reply by Nadal. He then blasts a service winner. However, that’s followed by classic Nadal tennis. A great return gives him a shot at a mid-court forehand. The Spaniard amps up the spin, and sends it into Janowicz’ backhand. He repeats the maneuver after Janowicz’s reply, but then sends a FH down the line that Janowicz simply can’t handle (the Pole tried to counter-punch with an impossible running FH down-the-line. It didn’t come close to going in).
That’s fundamentally sound tennis: the perfect marriage between appropriate tactics and impeccable execution.
At 30-15, Janowicz badly misses yet another simple mid-court FH. A horrible mistake. 30-all. He then fires up a service winner up the T, and has a game point. But then, another mid-court FH goes into the net for Janowicz. At Deuce, Jerzy actually puts away a short FH DTL. That’s his second game point, which is wasted by some lazy post-serve footwork. Janowicz had hit a very good kicker, and Nadal had sent a very good deep return. But since it was a kicker and Nadal’s return wasn’t really a flat zinger, Janowicz had ample time to set up to hit a proper shot. He didn’t, and his hurried backhand sails long. Disaster looms when Janowicz has yet again a short FH to deal with, and decides to hit a CC dropper. Horrible shot selection, and it’s matched by horrible execution. That was an extremely low percentage shot, simply because Janowicz was here when he hit it:
See how Nadal is already leaning that way, since Janowicz didn’t have any time to disguise his shot? Never a good sign.
From the spot of the court where Janowicz is standing, there are two better options: 1) a safe cross-court FH that won’t end the point and 2) a tricky but doable FH down-the-line that probably won’t win the point if it’s hit with the necessary amount of spin, but will set up an easy put-away or another short ball.
Janowicz chose option 3: the brainfart, desperate dropper. In a related note, this triggers the first break point for either man so far in the match.
Somehow, Janowicz survives the break point solely because Rafael Nadal missed a shot he probably makes 99 times out of a 100. We had yet another desperate, obvious 2nd-ball dropper from Janowicz, Nadal tracked it down, sent a deep reply, and had a comfortable volley off of Janowicz’ below-average pass. And yet, Nadal missed the putaway volley wide. Unbelievable mistake.
Janowicz threatens to hold after a good serve affords him an easy smash, but then fails to convert his third game point when he sends a third ball dropper into the net. It wasn’t a bad idea, actually: Jerzy had hit a good inside-out FH that Nadal floated back, and Janowicz held the BH disguise until the very last second for the cross-court dropper. Also, look where Nadal is at the moment of impact:
See? Nadal is at least 3 feet behind the baseline, and moving to his right. Janowicz chose the right play here, and just botched the execution. I have no problem with trying droppers in this context: what I do hate is 2nd ball (the shot after the serve) desperate droppers that the opponent can read a mile away.
The next point, though, is utter madness from Janowicz. Nadal sends a great return off of that violent slider out wide. Janowicz half-volleys it deep, and Nadal sends a neutral FH into Janowicz’ BH…who somehow decides to use another dropper. Nadal was squarely on the baseline, moving forward. Guess what happened? Yep, the Spaniard chased it down and turned it into a winner. It wasn’t even all that hard.
Faced with a second break point, Janowicz sends a very good 2nd serve kicker out wide… but Nadal returns it extremely well. Janowicz isn’t ready, and sends a soft reply up the middle. Nadal smells blood, lines up for a big cross-court FH, and watches Janowicz’ desperate reply sail long. He’s broken.
This is why the Rafael will most likely finish the year ranked No.1, whereas Janowicz will finish the year ranked outside the top 20.
11. A key point at 30-all: Nadal hits a cross-court FH that the line judge and Janowicz claim was out. Nadal himself doesn’t seem to optimistic as he challenges. And yet, Hawk-Eye rewards his decision:
That’s the difference between a set point and a break point. Nadal shortly after converts the former.
The stats for this set scream “tiebreaker:”
12. Janowicz plays an unforgivably terrible opening service game in the second set. His backhand misfires on 3 occasions (2 unforced, one quasi unforced), and Nadal’s great return made the difference in the remaining point, which set up 0-40. A related thought: Nadal is all over Janowicz’ slider out wide from the deuce court. Which serves as a reminder that in the ATP, it’s not so much about power as it is about unpredictability when it comes to the serve. It’s about creating confusion on the returner’s mind. If you become predictable with your service patterns…you’re in trouble.
What I don’t understand is why Janowicz isn’t using his other serves on that side. I’ve seen him hit plenty of aces up the T, and he can even go body with it.
At any rate, Nadal breaks at love.
13. This is an interesting graph:
Notice that clump of red balls over on the left corner of the AD court service box.
Surprisingly, Nadal plays a very sloppy service game, and he’s given away his break lead in this second set.
14. Someone seems to be balding at a quick pace:
That someone is somehow on the verge of winning 3 straight games: he has a break point at 2-1, 30-40. It is wasted when he lunges for a huge 2nd serve backhand return and misses wide. Janowicz was all over that serve, but Nadal did get a nice angle on it.
Moments later, Janowicz has a great chance to set up another break point, but sends a simple BH putaway long. A costly miss. Nadal then pummels Jerzy’s two-hander, and escapes a tricky service game.
15. In the next service game (2-all), a rather awkward moment takes place at 40-30. Janowicz comes to net after his serve, but his volley floats long. Nadal is on it, and though the ball is seemingly going long, he still sends a passing shot straight at Janowicz, who has stopped moving and is simply standing there.
The key here is that the call from the line judge was strangely late: it actually came right when Nadal hit his shot. Hence, the World No. 1 did the correct thing by not stopping play and hitting that passing shot. Of course, Janowicz could’ve avoided being tagged at net had he followed Nadal’s lead and played until the call came.
Of course, the Paris crowd boos Nadal.
However, upon further review, Janowicz showed incredible reflexes and actually got a racquet on Nadal’s shot. So there, no harm done.
Moments later, Janowicz saves 2 BPs, one of them thanks to a rare botched 2nd serve return by Nadal. However, Janowicz botches a short FH for the 21098408th time in the match, and then double-faults on the ensuing BP.
Strangely enough (given Jerzy’s recent struggles with DFs), that was his first of the match. It wasn’t even close: probably missed the T by about a foot.
Before that, we got this very nice graph:
Can you imagine how nice it would be to have this data for all the players in the top 10 in both the ATP and the WTA?
16. Nadal plays yet another sloppy service game, and finds himself down 30-40. He saves the BP with a fantastic, smart shot: Janowicz’ cross-court BH return had pulled him wide and into the forecourt, but Nadal amps up the RPMs on his FH, and safely hits it down-the-line for a winner. Not an easy shot, yet it was impeccably executed. Some sloppy points later, the man from Manacor holds.
17. There’s a shot that no one else in tennis hits other than Rafael Nadal: the no-look counter-dropper. It’s more a soccer/basketball play than a tennis play, actually. He unveils it in the second point of the 4-2 Janowicz service game. It’s a jewel of a shot.
18. An update on the Janowicz 1st serve placement graph:
Interesting how the wide serve from the AD court keeps being money. The slider out wide from the deuce court? Not so much.
19. Quite often, Janowicz’ post-shot footwork is an absolute mess. Here he is after hitting a half-volley FH after a good Nadal return of a wide serve from the Deuce court:
See how unprepared Janowicz is for Nadal’s shot? Notice the lack of knee-bend? And see how Nadal is sprinting towards that ball? This resulted in a very predictable FH DTL winner by Nadal.
Janowicz wasn’t anywhere near it.
20. Last year’s Paris runner-up keeps fighting, and he has a BP to stay alive in the match at 4-5. However, he can’t get any depth on his return, and Nadal pounces on the short ball. Janowicz gets another BP after Nadal inexplicably double-faults. It has to be said that the 13-time Slam champ has been rather wobbly at times in this second set. Not so in the first.
The break point is fascinating, Nadal does incredible defensive things with his feet, and then Janowicz botches a mid-court FH for the 10840850850858th time. Straight into the net.
Two match points go begging for Nadal. The second after yet another double-fault. He even faces a third BP, but erases it with a simply phenomenal inside-out FH after a very good return up the middle. This is where Nadal placed that FH:
Not pleased with that, Nadal sets up another match point after placing a tricky volley here:
Big time players hit big time shots when they need them. It really boils down to that.
Moments later, Nadal has won the match.
This is how Jerzy Janowicz’ season ends: with the best seat in the house to watch an all-time great do special things. May the young Pole use it as motivation for 2014, because there’s enormous potential within him to do special things on a tennis court.
But as of his last match of 2013, it’s still unfulfilled potential.