Great serving was de rigueur today in Paris. Novak Djokovic, John Isner, Tomas Berdych, and Milos Raonic weren’t broken in the first sets of their round-of-16 matches, but Jerzy Janowicz’s serving might have been the most impressive of all. In a game that lasted all of 49 seconds, the Pole fired four consecutive aces then, in his next service game, bombed a 143 M.P.H. ace and a 145 M.P.H. service winner. Janowicz then showed off the big guns—his biceps—to the crowd.
Unfortunately for Janowicz, his opponent also started out serving impeccably. Rafael Nadal has never wowed with his serve the way he has with his running gets or whipping forehands, but it’s become one of the pillars of his game. It can bounce sky high on clay, but even on fast surfaces, Nadal makes the most of his lefty serves, placing them like a skilled archer. Of course, Nadal also owns what may be the best ground game on the planet, so that helps him hold more often than not as well.
The point is, for as good a server as Janowicz is, he was under tremendous pressure to hold today, as Nadal was just as difficult to break. It meant that every mistake was magnified, including a forehand he dumped in the net on game point at 5-5, 40-30. Janowicz got another game point chance, but when he let that one slip away, it seemed certain he’d have to pay. Nadal, clearly the superior player, made him do just that, being patient and not becoming frustrated by Janowicz’s routine early holds. When Nadal earned his second break point of that game, it was too much for Janowicz to overcome. The set went Rafa’s way, as did the match, 7-5, 6-4.
Another element of Janowicz’s game that he’s known for is the drop shot, but it’s not anywhere near as effective as his serve. He goes to it too often, and while it’s earned him some success—most notably a year ago at this tournament—Nadal is one opponent who doesn’t mind sprinting forward to track down a ball. That skill also helped secure the first break of the match and the first set, and Janowicz learned from it, playing fewer droppers from then on.
Janowicz’s aggression was unwavering, however; it needed to be if he wanted a chance to challenge Nadal. He looked to swat forehand returns all day, running around his backhand and unloading whenever possible. It was much the same during rallies—if Nadal gave Janowicz an inch, he’d try to take a mile. The strategy worked for stretches, and when Nadal experienced some lapses of form, it looked like this content had the potential to go beyond a straight-sets score.
Ultimately, however, Janowicz was undone by his fireballing more often than not. He piled up errors even as Nadal started to struggle on serve, giving the world No. 1 far too many chances to right his wrongs. Janowicz even failed to make Nadal pay for two double-faults—including one on match point—in the final game. Nadal shook it off, like some other second-set stumbles, saved a break point with a fade-away forehand that caught the sideline, then struck a neat touch volley for his second and final match point.
Consistency won Nadal the first set; persistence won him the second. To win any set against Nadal, his opponents usually need plenty of both.