Rafael Nadal: Changes Rafa Must Make to Retake Wimbledon
Rafael Nadal’s recent victory over Novak Djokovic in the 2012 French Open Final marked the end of a three match losing streak against the Serbian in the past three consecutive slam finals.
However, it also marked the moment when Nadal defeated the very champion that he helped create at last year’s Wimbledon Final.
At the time of last year’s Wimbledon Finals match, Djokovic was 0-5 at Grand Slam events when competing against Nadal.
By the conclusion of this year’s Australian Open, Djokovic was be 3-0 against Nadal in three consecutive slam finals.
That is, he was until he met Nadal on the clay courts of Roland Garros.
But as Nadal transitions from the clay courts of the French Open, where he now has a record of 52-1, to the grass surface at Wimbledon, he will also be returning to the event that saw Djokovic cement his status as one of the sport’s top players.
So what changes must Nadal make to retake Wimbledon and possibly defeat Djokovic in round two of their finals matchup at the All-England Club?
For one thing, he must maintain the mental edge that he has seemingly regained following his defeat in the 2012 Australian Open.
Following last year’s Wimbledon Finals match, Djokovic had a record of 48-1 on the year, and had passed Nadal as the world’s No. 1 ranked player. Meanwhile, Nadal’s loss in the final was his fifth consecutive loss to Djokovic. After years of swapping slam titles with Roger Federer, Nadal had yet another rival, and one who has held the upper-hand on him for nearly a year.
Furthermore, for a player such as Nadal who feeds off of his opponents' weaknesses, competing against Djokovic is as much a mental game as it is physical.
Last year’s final not only provided Nadal with a loss in his quest for back-to-back Wimbledon titles, but it also provided him with proof that a competitor existed who not only resembled him, but was also capable of defeating him.
Now that he is leaving the clay courts, Nadal cannot lose any of the mental edge or confidence that he regained while winning his record seventh French Open title.
Additionally, Nadal cannot afford to lose the first two sets of another Wimbledon Final, especially if his competitor is once again Djokovic. The Spaniard fell in last year’s final 4-6, 1-6, 6-1, 3-6.
Djokovic also dominated on extended points in last year’s final, an area usually considered a strength of Nadal’s game.
Of course, this is all dependent on Nadal returning to yet another slam final.
But with eight finals appearances in the past nine slam events, earning a return to the title match could be the least of his worries.
What could concern him more is how much he has managed to improve his backhand since last year’s final. Against Djokovic, Nadal cannot rely on the dominance of his forehand.
Another change Nadal must make involves his break point conversions.
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In last year’s Wimbledon final, Nadal converted 50% of his break points while Djokovic converted 83%. In the semifinals at Wimbledon, Nadal converted 63% of his break points against Andy Murray.
Nadal’s dominance of the sport has always included a formidable rival. His first slam title came after Federer had already claimed four of his own, and his current run is now rivaled by Djokovic, who has enjoyed his own string of success in slam title matches.
If the 2012 French Open is any indication, however, Nadal’s dominance could be far from complete.
Wimbledon could be more than another Grand Slam event this year. Not only could Nadal retake his Wimbledon title from Djokovic, but he could also make it clear that his newest rival can only slow down his dominance, not end it.
As Nadal moves from the clay courts to grass, he has an opportunity to re-establish his mental toughness while retaking the Wimbledon title that eluded him last year.
But what may be even more important is the fact that Nadal will be returning to the event where Djokovic began his string of success.
Few players have rivaled Nadal’s dominance on the court, but Djokovic seems to be the ultimate opponent. With few weaknesses, and what seems to be a mental edge, Djokovic has provided a bit of scare for Nadal, as the two are only a year apart in age.
However, Nadal’s trip to Wimbledon could prove that the rivalry is anything but one-sided.
Nadal allowed the recent rivalry to begin a year ago at Wimbledon.
This year, if he makes a few necessary changes, Nadal can swing the momentum back in his direction.
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