Before today, I’d never seen Facundo Bagnis play a tennis shot. It was interesting watching the world #99 lefty, trade shots with Nadal. It was also clear that his southpaw nature troubled Nadal a bit. It is a bit ironic, for Nadal and his lefty disposition, has been the scourge of many top tennis players – particularly Federer – for years. Yet, he represents an increasingly rare demographic in tennis circles, particularly at the top of the game. Every other member of the big four and its sometimes honorary member, Wawrinka, play right handed.
As such, Nadal had a hard time re-calibrating his choice of shots. Early on, he consistently hit his trade mark cross court forehands right into… Bagnis’s forehand. Worse still, the Argentine was making him pay. Just when you thought Rafa was gonna get dragged into a Murray-like scrap fest, the other interesting thing I observed, happened.
We talk a lot about the glory of the top five guys. Their skill, their champion’s mindset, their killer instinct and their accomplishments are always major discussion points. What we sometimes fail to consider is the absolute ridiculousness of how high they have pushed the bar in those areas of excellence. The field is by no means weak or shallow. Facundo for instance, hits a very flat and deep ball. In truth, he wails on the ball rather than hitting a tennis stroke. He also moves fairly well and there were a lot of entertaining rallies between these two to buttress that fact. However, as the match progressed, Rafa’s class slowly reined Bagnis in and soon Rafa had the match firmly beneath his bull like horns.
So what changed? Time and time again we watch our favorite stars get caught in a dogfight with players we expect them to dispatch with considerable aplomb. For a moment the tennis neutralist is entertained by the possibility of an upset and the tennis fan is rolling through heart attacks faster than a Bugatti would cover the autobahn. Yet for all the excitement that builds up, the result is usually the same. Our favorite star, wins. Today Rafa won by hitting his shots a little closer to the lines than Bagnis was comfortable doing. He won by not missing when he took the initiative in the rallies – something Bagnis was guilty of… A LOT. He placed his serves just that little bit better and timed his returns well. Finally, he moved brilliantly and his stamina/fitness held up. Bagnis’s didn’t. End result, a routine three set win that made the mini scare of the opening games feel like an imagined event.
Rafa moves on to the next round, nothing up his 200th victory at a tournament of this level. It is a befitting accomplishment and he deserves all the recognition he gets for it. Being the consummate professional, he won’t dwell on it for too long. After all, his next opponent will be looking to ensure he doesn’t make it 201.