The Bakery is your one stop shop for quick hitting match reports. Bagels and breadsticks may or may not be included.
Rafael Nadal is the player to watch heading into the Australian Open. We more or less know what we are getting from the other members of the big four, and possibly even the rest of the players in the top ten. But as with his health, Nadal’s form was all over the place in 2015, and it is difficult to forecast how his 2016 will play out.
Everything looked like business as usual for Nadal in the first set. Kuznetsov’s inside out forehands from the ad side floated short and high and the Spaniard took full advantage, ripping forehands every which way and looking to be in complete control. The most obvious positive sign was his interest in hammering forehands down the line from both the deuce and ad sides. If you’re a Rafa fan, you don’t just want to see those types of shots, you want to see the explosiveness from the ground to create the overwhelming pace that’s necessary to make those shots successful.
However, as the match wore on, Kuznetsov grew more comfortable. He did well to mix in drop shots and put some extra spin on the inside out forehands. Those shots went from falling into the hitting zone of Nadal to pushing Rafa out wide. With the court open, the Russian began venturing to the net and getting more creative. The wind and cold temperatures further affected the match, including one game where Nadal was forced into hitting some bizarre looking backhand slices and digging tough balls off of his shoe laces.
With a double fault forcing a break, Nadal went up 4-3 in the final set, but was immediately broken off two sensational Kuznetsov return winners. Finally, Nadal closed things out with a couple of stellar games.
Overall, it was a decent showing from Nadal in tough conditions. The flashes of explosiveness, forehands down both lines and pretty good movement are all excellent signs. However, the lack of depth and problems with Kuznetsov’s inside out forehands are worrying. Stay tuned.