THE LATEST THINKING
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Okay, I'm Ready to Talk about Rafael Nadal's Loss
Rafael Nadal lost to Gilles Müller in the fourth round at Wimbledon on Monday in an epic five-set match.
Oh, it hurts. It hurts so baaad! Nadal's five-set loss to Müller was four hours and 48 minutes long, with a 28-game final set. It was an instant classic. One I'll never watch again.
As you all know, I'm a bit of a fan. Rafael Nadal has found his form again after, frankly, a few straight years without it. So going into Wimbledon, I was cautiously optimistic that he could make a deep run. Well, considering that grass has never been his strongest surface, the fourth round isn't bad, especially because he almost (and should have) won it.
Going into the match, experts were picking Müller because of his big serve, which has always been Rafa's bane on grass. And for the first two sets, those experts were absolutely right: Rafa just could not get a feel for Müller's serve. But then, finally in the third set, Rafa started to see it, and he started to make Müller pay. Still, Rafa only broke twice the entire match: once in the third and once in the fourth, but that was enough to push the match to a deciding fifth set.
Going into the fifth set you just had to give Rafa the edge because of his stamina. The problem is that there's no fifth-set tiebreak at the Championships, so he was going to have to get a break-of-serve to win. He had five break points in the fifth set and didn't convert a single one. Overall, he was 2/16 in break points for the match - not a great ratio.
There were even high-pressure moments in the fifth where it looked like Müller was finally cracking, but Rafa was cracking more. In the end El Matador lost playing as vintage Rafa, which is to say as an all-time great that plays with the confidence of a baby deer trying to walk for the first time.
For the entire fifth set he stood about a mile-and-a-half behind the baseline to retrieve the serve, so even when he did get a good look at a serve, he was lucky to even get the ball back over the net. This allowed Müller to come to net, which he did literally twice was many times as Rafa in the fifth (42 to 21).
In short, Rafa played it safe, as he always has in big moments despite commentators’ incessant insistence that he’s the most confident player on tour (Incessant Insistence — name of Santiago’s...never mind). Indeed, Rafa’s greatness is all the more remarkable for the fact that he does lack confidence on court.
But this year he’s more confident than he’s been for a while, so even though he lost to Müller (missing out on a golden opportunity to annihilate Cilic in the Quarters), do not count him out for the rest of the season. Look for him in the U.S. Open final. Call that my latest desperate Rafa prediction.
Cilic avoids Nadal and Murray at Wimbledon and will next face Sam Querrey in the semifinals