Rafael Nadal: What He Has to Do to Beat Novak Djokovic

Ben GordonContributor IJanuary 31, 2012

Rafael Nadal: What He Has to Do to Beat Novak Djokovic

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    This past weekend, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic put on a show.  There were times when it looked like either of them would win.  The momentum shifts were unbelievable from set to set, game to game, point to point and even within the same points.  There's no question the match was up for grabs and that this is the closest Nadal has come to beating Djokovic in a long, long time.  

    This is easily one of the greatest matches I've ever seen and Nadal, even though he lost, should take a lot of positives out of it.  However, if he doesn't improve certain aspects of his game, he won't get any closer to taking back control of the number one ranking.

Get the First Serve Back to How It Was at the 2010 US Open

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    Nadal's serve at the 2010 U.S. Open was unbelievable.  He won 85 percent of his first serve points, 66 percent of his second serve points and wasn't broken until the semi-finals.  Then, all of a sudden, that incredible serve disappeared.  

    Toni needs to make sure that Rafa works on getting his serving back up.  If Nadal got more free points off his serves, he'd have more energy for those long points that Novak seemed to take an awful lot of.  Nadal also had to fight hard in every service game just to get routine holds, while Djokovic seemed to breeze through a lot of service games.  Ten mph doesn't just come off your serve, he needs to find it, and fast.

Be More Aggressive

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    All too often Nadal was nine feet behind the base line, content to just put shots back and wait for Novak to make the error.  Sorry, but that won't work against Djokovic, he's too good for that.  He'll just dominate the points like he did in the second and third sets.  It's time for Nadal to learn to play up at and even inside the base line. He's got to be the one controlling the rallies and pushing Djokovic, not the other way around.  

    This problem, however, isn't just during rallies.  All too often he'd just spin first serves in, he may not be blasting them in in the 120s any more, but a first serve under 100 mph is just pathetic, he can't afford to let Djokovic hit returns harder than his first serves, it's a joke.  Man up and hit the ball like you mean it, Rafa.

Take the Positives from This Loss and Run with Them

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    This was a hell of a match.  

    Both players looked like they would win at multiple points, it was one of the most evenly played matches between the two in a long, long time.  Nadal must take the positives and not think about that he lost or that 4-2 30-15 point in the 5th set.  He should think about how on his worst surface he nearly won.  

    Next comes clay, his best surface.  The greatest clay court player of all time should be able to win and get things back on track against Djokovic at or by the French.  This is Nadal's time to shine and catch up in the rankings, he should know that he can win on clay.

Follow These Steps and There Will Be a Pair Atop Men's Tennis, Not Just Nole

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    If Nadal's serve gets back to its peak and he decides to play aggressively, no one can beat him.  At his best, I'd take him against any player in the world at any time.  Add in a tough mental game and confidence and that's one extremely tough player to beat.  

    I think Uncle Toni knows this and is already working on it, or he should be.  All I know is I'm looking forward to seeing his assault on Novak's throne atop the tour.

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