Indian Wells 2016 - Week Two
by MAC

Last week I admitted to being nervous about Rafa's first match. I will now admit to being nervous about pretty much every match. The draw presented him with a combination of players who have given him a hard time in the past (Muller and Nishikori), players who are giving him a hard time at the moment (Verdasco and Djokovic) and a new sensation (Zverev). Nothing there to offer a crumb of comfort to someone who, quite frankly, would prefer every tournament to be like Monte Carlo 2010.

Gilles Müller has never got to a final, let alone won a title. He's never got above 34 in the world, yet he is one of those journeymen who can cause a surprise upset and then do little else. He beat Rafa at Wimbledon in 2005 and went on to knock Andy Roddick out in the first round of the US Open. Those two results are probably his main claim to fame, though he did beat Borna Coric and Dominic Thiem back to back in Sydney earlier this year and then put Fabio Fognini out in the first round of the Australian Open.

To make things more nerve racking, the match was played at night with the wind howling round the court. Not exactly Rafa's favourite conditions. It proved to be pretty tough but in just over 2 hours and 10 minutes Rafa came through, 6-2, 2-6, 6-4.

I think it safe to assume Rafa was happy with his win.

"Very tough conditions out there.

"Very happy for the victory after last three matches that I lost have been in three sets or five sets. So I needed a victory like this. Very happy for that.

"Very happy about the attitude during the whole match. Have been very tough to play with that conditions and against a player who serve very well and who goes to the net. It's obvious these conditions help the player who normally plays less from the baseline, no?

" So just was a great victory for me. I'm very happy for that."

Now I know there are a lot of people out there who viewed Rafa's next match as an opportunity for him to exact revenge on Fernando Verdasco. I just have all those stats rushing round my head (lost three out of four of their last matches, hasn't beaten him on a hard court since 2011) and go into a blue funk.

The first set was a pretty good nerve settler but the second...

When Rafa went three set points down in the tiebreak it looked certain to go into a decider. Reminiscent of old matches, though, he pulled it level, fought off another couple of set points and finally won, 6-0, 7-6(9). Phew.

"I lost matches similar to this one in Australia, in Bueno Aires, in Rio de Janeiro, so it's important winning sets like this for me like the other day in the third, today in the second.

"You know, I have to go through these things, no? I played a great first set, very good quality of tennis, I think. No mistakes. That's important for me. Serving very well; returning very well.

"Then having some mistakes in the beginning of the second, especially with the serve, then distract my concentration, distract my confidence, and I was suffering at the end of the second set, too, no?

"I know arriving to a tiebreak against a player like Verdasco normally he serve better than me. You know, normally in these kind of match I have more to lose than him, so he's able to play very aggressive. He has an amazing shots, no? He arrives to the tiebreak and you know you're in trouble.

"Feel lucky to win the tiebreak, and at the same time I think at the end of the tiebreak I played well with not many mistakes and going for the points. So is an important victory for me. Two matches wins here, tough ones. That's something that stays in my mind and helps."

I never like it when Rafa has to play someone for the first time and it's worse when it's a player who is touted as one of the rising stars of the next generation, Alexander Zverev.

And boy, was it a tough match. Having come back from a break down in the first set Rafa then lost the tiebreak. The second set was a remarkable 6-0 whitewash by Rafa but then he went a break down in the decider. At 3-5 he faced a match point but Zverev netted a volley and promptly lost heart. Rafa took fifteen of the next sixteen points to come out the winner, 6-7(8), 6-0, 7-5.

"Very happy for the victory, obviously.

"I have been fighting during the whole match. First set I had big chance with not a difficult forehand down the line that I missed. So that first set probably will be the key, if I was able to hit that forehand right place, no?

"But after that, I think I played a great second set. But at the beginning, sometimes when win a set that easy is dangerous for the beginning of the next one, no?

"The beginning of the third he played aggressive, and I think I stopped a little bit the rhythm, so I was in trouble, no?

"Was a great victory. I'm very happy about it. I am especially happy about the mentality on court, the spirit of fight during the whole match, believing that I can win a match during the whole time even in the tougher situations.

"So, yeah. Very happy for the victory"

His quarter final was against Kei Nishikori, who'd beaten him for the first time in their last meeting. Strong drink was not required to get through this match, though. Although he was very close to being a double break down in the first set, he rallied to complete a relatively simple 6-4, 6-3 victory.

"I feel myself strong mentally. I feel myself with the right energy. When that happens, the rest is a little bit less difficult, no?

"I am able to fight for every ball. I am able to keep going during the whole match, believe in myself again, and that make me play with more energy, less nerves.

"That's so important for me, no? It's the way I play during all my career, and that give me a lot. And this week is being very, very positive for me. Very important.

"For me is being very positive tournament, winning against great players. I had a tough draw from the beginning, and be able to be where I am today in that semifinals, and especially with the victory of today against top, top player, that's something very important for my confidence, very important to believe in myself, too, and winning the way that I won."

Rafa may have lost his semi final to Novak Djokovic, 6-7(5), 2-6, but those scorelines are getting closer.


¡Vamos! Rafa

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