Stuttgart Loves 2015 Champion Rafael Nadal and Nadal Loves The Mercedes Cup
Andreas Thiele, Tennis Atlantic
The last two days here in Stuttgart were very sunny and without any problems. At this weekend three matches were played, two Semi-finals on Saturday and the final on Sunday. As you already know, Rafael Nadal could gained the fourth grass title of his career and managed to defeat the Serb Viktor Troicki in two sets, concluding a week of intense matches for Rafa. Troicki performed very well in the first set against Cilic on Saturday, but – in short – his game wasn’t a similar threat to Nadal’s precise game. Nadal defeated Troicki 7-6(3), 6-3.
Semifinals: Nadal d. Monfils in 2, Troicki d. Cilic in 3
Gael Monfils didn’t perform up to a level needed to beat Rafael Nadal who has improved his forehand a lot. Monfils served better than on Friday when he faced Philipp Kohlschreiber, but his many unforced errors during rallies prevented him from troubling Rafa. Besides Nadal’s first service game, Monfils didn’t face any break point and he blew his chances then due to wrong shot selection. Nadal served very well and approached to the net successfully, though he had some forehand unforced errors Uncle Toni was critical of in the stands. It seemed the Frenchman was slightly cramping from his thighs, as his movements got even worse than the day before and Nadal could hold his serve easily with Serve-and-Volley after he avoided the break. Monfils made it too easy for Nadal who dictated the match without any pressure. Nadal improved his returns a lot and could read Gael’s serve with ease, breaking him in the middle of the set as Monfils double faulted when serving against the break. Monfils knowing Nadal was dialed in on his second serve, overcranked himself on first serves. Nadal didn’t have any problems to hold his serves then, though Monfils displayed some great shots and forehands.
In the second set Monfils kept having problems holding his service, though he served 11 aces. Nadal returned too well and Monfils had problems staying focused on the match, put on a show and tried to hit many hot shots which didn’t get in. The crowd was delighted, but it didn’t help his game, he even laughed a lot and didn’t appear to be taking things too seriously. Monfils tried to strike at Nadal’s topspin on grass, the problem is you do a lot of UEs if you don’t move well enough to get every ball. Nadal didn’t have many problems dictating the rallies, predicted Monfils’ shots in the right spots and could let him move a lot. The very charismatic person – that’s how Nadal described Monfils – lacked the get up, did some great shots, but a double fault and a very silly backhand smash which went right into the net sealed Nadal’s break and just like in the first set he didn’t have problems to hold his last service game to win in a surprisingly short match 6-3, 6-4.
Nadal’s forehand worked very well a lot of times, but failed at crucial moments too. Nevertheless his forehand improved a lot compared with the first practice sessions when almost all his forehands reached the net or were far and few between out. His service which has a slice kick, since it ‘skirts’ the returner was lethal this tournament. Nadal reached a grass court final for the first time since Wimbledon 2011 (l. to Djokovic).
Viktor Troicki played fantastically in the first set against Marin Cilic. The Croat didn’t seem to be fit, even at practice he looked very troubled and unhappy with himself. Marin lost his first service game and had a rusty start to the match as he couldn’t put his plan into action to attack with his forehand. He committed too many unforced errors at the beginning of the match and didn’t have the depth in his shots to let Troicki on the baseline, Viktor could move forward often and approach to the net. He played an all-round solid first set and struggled in just one service game. Cilic had a chance at four break points but he couldn’t convert due to good serves and good shot selection, aside from that Cilic didn’t have the power in his shots to force errors. Nonetheless the Serb returned very well and the Croat had issues during his service games: Troicki had even set points on Cilic’s serve. Troicki’s groundies were good and he often varied, so Troicki had the rhythm to break Cilic.
In the second set Marin had issues and had to take the medical timeout, Troicki lost his rhythm to win the match in two sets. Both had more problems with their serves and long rallies took place in the second. Cilic started to return better as time went by and his shots had the depth they had previously lacked. Troicki found his keys to success again and returned very well at later stage of the set, many returns landed on the line. Cilic faced pressure, but many serve winners kept him in the match. Troicki also matching him with big serves, so the second set had to be decided in a breaker. Troicki didn’t have any chance in the breaker and Cilic redlined his game. Troicki by contrast committed unforced errors in crunchtime and wasn’t clutch enough.
In the third set Cilic had Troicki behind him as he won the rallies, returning well, and broke Troicki, but thanks to a pair of poor backhand errors, he failed to keep the break in hand and the te match was even again. Troicki saved himself after a very long service game, with three break points gone for Cilic. The breaker had to decide a set yet again, and therefore the whole match. Contrary to the second set tiebreak Cilic committed many unforced errors, above all with his forehand. He was more nervous than Troicki, perhaps feeling the pain of losing break point chances in the third set. Troicki took advantage of the situation, and served the match out 6-3, 6-7(1), 7-6(2). Vik achieved his first grass final ever and his second ATP final in 2015 (Sydney).
Final: Nadal d. Troicki in 2
Before the match it was clear Nadal was the favorite. At his press conference he didn’t want to put himself under pressure and was even more relaxed than probably the tournament director and journalists were at his day before the final. Sweltering heat featured on the final day in Stuttgart and these were probably the best conditions for Rafael Nadal, a player of great stamina. It was a sell out like the past three days and this year’s tournament goes down in the history as one of the most successful ones ever for the Mercedes Cup. Both players,vying for a coveted Mercedes car, got a big cheer after their entry to the stadium, Nadal of course the fan favorite, but both looking comfortable playing in Germany.
Troicki served first and got off to a strong start. The Spaniard returned well in the beginning but wasn’t given time to rip his groundies.Troicki began with solid baseline game and good shots to keep the ball in play. Nadal committed the unforced errors at the beginning, and especially in his service game. A wrong shot selection, some tricky misses and a very good return granted Troicki the first break point. Nadal could save his serve with backhands crosscourt, and a great forehand down-the-line passing winner to get his game point and convert it with an ace. Troicki seemed unfazed and served again like he did at the beginning. He made the better start as he served better than the Spaniard and had more free points. Nadal won his service games after very long and exhausting rallies, exhausting particularly for Troicki. Nadal’s forehand down-the-line wasn’t as effective as usual, and Troicki began even to win the longer rallies. As time went by, Nadal could feel more comfortable with his forehand. He began to touch the lines with depth, and got more offensive in his service games, winning them without effort. Both served very well in the first set, but couldn’t hold a good level in returning. They won the service games more or less smoothly, apart from Nadal’s first one, and still needed time to adjust to the others game. Suddenly Nadal served two double faults serving at *3-4 and but managed to win the game then with huge services.
Troicki was the one winning routine service games at this point, Nadal couldn’t return as well as he did against Monfils the day before. Whereas Vik sometimes returned great. and posed problems for Nadal. The Spaniard still held his service games and the breaker had to decide the first set. Though Troicki played a bit better and was leading in the most aspects, the Spaniard, known for clutch play, rose to the occasion. He won the first point Troicki served and extended his lead winning two more mini-breaks. The second time Troicki lost his serve was because of a double fault and he gifted his third point on serve due to a forehand unforced error. Troicki, who had a great shot selection before the breaker, began to fail too often at the important points and Nadal took the first set. as Troicki began to fold after he lost the first three points.
Nadal started again to serve very well in the second set and moved well on and behind the baseline. He anticipated more and more Troicki’s shots which slowly became powerless, and had the perfect answers to Troicki’s tests. Though Nadal’s forehand wasn’t at its classic best, his baseline game was enough for Troicki, who had many problems when forced to hit on the run. The Serb too often missed the sweet spot of his shots and was not in the zone, his shots also started to lack depth but Rafa still missed his chances to break Viktor. As Vik, how friends and players call him, served for the second time in this set, I heard Nadal’s uncle Toni Nadal, who was right behind him in the stands at this moment, shout very briefly in a very cryptic Spanish: “Play point to point”. Nadal began to play very aggressively, passed Troicki with his backhand and started to return sharply. A double fault vanished a good run of two won points. Toni Nadal must have realized his nephew was a bit too nervous, always thinking in games and his uncle tried to remind him what they talked about earlier in a subtle way.
Troicki felt the pressure as Rafa raised his level and finally lost his service. His poor second service was the result of a failed first one which was a very close call. Troickiwas confused a bit as Lahyani already started to say ‘Let…’, but the linesman called it out and Nadal just nodded. Troicki didn’t challenge and his second serve wasn’t threatening enough, a forehand UE clinched the break. This exchange shows how important the mental side of the game is in tennis, and Troicki failed a crucial test. It was the only break point in the third set and thus perhaps the most important point of the match. After getting broken Troicki faded and Nadal servbotted his way to holds without worrying about securing a double break.
As I sat in the first row, it seemed to me Nadal was a bit fraught, his uncle tried to motivate him and keep the pressure on but after a great serve-and-volley to have two match points, Troicki pushed one final time. Long rallies and some great winners happened, at deuce Nadal played a very harmless volley at the net and Troicki responded with a backhand into the net. He yelled and was off the wall, the Spaniard gained the control again to close the match with a smash winner. A very good match which had its highs and lows, but more highs and the deserved winner was Rafael Nadal 7-6 6-3.
Nadal adds sorely needed ranking points as he had slipped down in the rankings, nearly outside the top 10, while Troicki moves up to 25.
Many Rafa-fans have shown up in Stuttgart and he didn’t disappoint the fans! He took his time, gave many autographs and took a lot of photographs with spectators and supporters. Even the press conferences were always relaxed as he gave detailed answers. Congratulations, Rafael Nadal, on your third Mercedes Cup (he won it twice on clay). Stuttgart showed great appreciation and love for their champion.
It should also be noted that Florin Mergea and Rohan Bopanna won their second ATP title of the season in doubles over Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares.