Rafael Nadal: How Rafa Can Get Back on Track
There’s been a shake up in the world of men’s tennis; the Top Three have finally changed—sort of.
Wimbledon 2012 was home to early-round upsets by nearly unknown underdogs, and it saw the departure of former No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the second round. Although Rafa only dropped to the No. 3 spot, it’s the lowest he has been ranked since May 2010.
With the 2012 Summer Olympics being contested on the same grass courts at Wimbledon this month, Rafa will need to step up his game to remind players and fans that he is still one of the best sheriffs in town. Here’s what Rafa needs to do to get back to the top quickly.
Build a More Effective Serve
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Rafael Nadal is a natural right-hander. However, as he developed his world-class game as a lefty, he now needs to develop a world-class lefty serve.
I’m not saying that Rafa has a weak serve—it has certainly improved. However, players don’t fear it. It’s the weakest part of his game and allows players to put pressure on him that the bigger servers don’t experience…very few free points. Looking at Rafa’s statistics against Lukas Rosol—the underdog who took him down in the second round of Wimbledon 2012—Rafa did win 78 percent of his first serve points. But Rosol won 83 percent, including 22 aces. Rafa also has a slower service speed compared to Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, averaging 118 mph.
If Rafa can add a little more pace, consistency and accuracy to his first serve, we will once again see the Spaniard dominating every surface like he does on clay.
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Another benefit of Rafael Nadal improving his serve is so that he can take some physical pressure off of his draining pace of play. Because Rafa has a slower, less-challenging serve than players like Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, he just doesn’t win nearly as many easy points. As a result, he has to grind out wins as if every surface was clay.
Developing a stronger serve will not only help Rafa win points more easily, but it will put his opponents in a much more defensive posture rather than teeing off on his serves as Lukas Rosol did.
The Spaniard’s style of play stretches out points and puts unnecessary wear and tear on his body. Compared to the buttery strokes of Roger Federer, Rafa is a grinder. He can only outlast his opponents with this style of play for so long.
Incorporate More Net Play
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Rafael Nadal has long been considered an aggressive counterpuncher due to his heavy topspin groundstrokes and emphasis on baseline play. However, he is also the best defensive player on the court. That said, his is a very predictable back court game, and some aggressive net play could again gain him some potential points that are far shorter in time and energy.
Because of the nature of grass courts, having a net game is a great advantage—just look at Roger Federer. While playing against Lukas Rosol, Nadal won only 67 percent of his net points, while Rosol won 79 percent.
I’m not saying Rafa needs to spend the entire match at net, but if he threw in a few great volleys, he would surprise his opponent and take the offensive hand and the point.