Australian Open 2011: Ten Reasons Why Rafael Nadal Is The Most Dominant Player

Gregory LanzenbergCorrespondent IJanuary 25, 2011

Australian Open 2011: Ten Reasons Why Rafael Nadal Is The Most Dominant Player

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 20:  Rafael Nadal of Spain looks on his second round match against Ryan Sweeting of the United States of America during day four of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 20, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Ph
    Scott Barbour/Getty Images

    The Spanish constitution acknowledged Juan Carlos as King of Spain on November 22nd 1975.
    At that time Rafael Nadal was not even born. To this day this will most probably be the only major title the 24-year-old will never have.


    However in the Sports of tennis, Rafa is the current real king.


    Statistics for the World number one are ridiculous when we consider the Australian Open is the only grand slam title Nadal does not currently hold, although he did triumph in Melbourne two years ago.

    Nadal has won nine Grand Slam titles, all in a five-year span.


    At 24 years, Rafa is the third youngest of the career Slammers, behind 22-year-old Don Budge in 1938 and Aussie Rod Laver in 1962. It is hard not to make him the favorite for all four majors this season - providing he remains fit and not injured.


    On the eve of his Australian Open quarterfinal match against his compatriot David Ferrer, we give you the ten reasons why the World number one is so tough to beat.

1° A Mental of Steel

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 24:  Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates match point after winning his fourth round match against Marin Cilic of Croatia during day eight of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 24, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia
    Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

    First of all, a great deal of Rafa's  success has to do with his unquenchable, and unquestioning, belief in himself when playing against any player, on any court, at any time.


    The World number one backs himself to win, every single time.


    Nadal plays each points as if they were match points, like Monica Seles used to play.

    Even when the pressure is truly on, such as when defending his titles against other highly ranked players such as Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, or Andy Murray, the Spaniard remained rock solid mentally.

    Rafa enjoys powerful and intimidating body language on court, which displays the warrior he is.
    The 24-year-old makes us believe he is on a mission to win whoever the opponent is and  whatever the situation is.
     
    Moreover the Majorcan gives make his opponents believe he is a rock solid unbreakable wall, who seems to be quite capable of staying out there for 5, 10 or even  12 hours if he has to, to secure his victory. This helps to create massive mental pressure and intimidation which slowly but surely wears down his opponent's game, morale, and their willingness to fight.

    Last but not least, It is impossible to play seven straight matches in a Grand Slam at your best. You do what is necessary to win each point, and it does not always have to be a magical forehand winner. That is what sets champions apart from finalists. Nadal finds a way to win — scrambling, fighting, putting the ball back one more time.

    On a personal note,  I believe Nadal will remain at the top for a long time, which is a great news for tennis.

    For me, there is no one out there who can express what tennis is all about as well as he does. He is not only a great player; he represents the values of the sport very well.


2° Nadal Is Iron Man

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 15:  Rafael Nadal of Spain looks on during a practice session ahead of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 15, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    As said previously, Nadal is ready to play for as long as it takes, which has to do with his extreme work out ethic. On a week when he's not playing a tournament, The World number can spend as much as 6 hours/per day divided into multiple sessions to work on his fitness.

    There is no question that strength without skill, or even good skill levels with low strength, will produce less than optimum results. But does it really matter if a player can squat 440+ lbs (200+ kg)? Is a squat of 220 lbs (100 kg) along with great stability, power, body control, and skill, etc. a better combination?
    For Nadal the answer is of course.

    While It is understandable to push for greater loads to improve absolute strength levels, there is a different way to improve performance and reduce injuries. There are little doubts that for Nadal to improve strength he has to train at intensities high enough to elicit a strength response (principle of overload).

    Nevertheless, the 24-year-old  might have found a better way to increase muscular and nervous system loading, yet lessening the strain on the spine and joints. To achieve this Nadal use leg exercises that not only produce great strength gains, but also increased stability and balance without the risk of back and joint injury.

    Of course all this work out and all the efforts put on a tennis match will take its toll at one point.

    Nadal might have two, or three more years max to play at the top, then hi body will start causing him trouble more often.

3° The Forehand Is a Deadly Weapon

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 22:  Rafael Nadal of Spain plays a forehand in his third round match against Bernard Tomic of Australia during day six of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 22, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Jul
    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    Just keep your eyes on the sweatband on his left wrist. Usually it ends up in front of his forehead on the follow-through of his forehand. Sometimes it is clear over his head. The force of the racket flies effortlessly over the top of his head as if it is a rope instead of a racket. It is almost as if he is snapping a towel.

    Nadal drives through the ball with the shoulder fully extended at the end of his follow-through.

    The 24-year-old's forehand success is often linked to the strength in his shoulder, but it is a credit to his flexibility that he can hit the shot consistently.

    His heavy spin forehand is one of the heaviest shot in today’s tennis. It’s the central component of his game, allowing him to dictate the play from the baseline Nadal forehand shot rotates at an average of 3200 times a minute (2700 for Roger Federer).
    Being given that he plays left handed, the spins come onto the racquet different to what players practise all of the time. Lately he tried to reduce the spin in order to win more winners, especially on hard courts.



4° The Most Improved Backhand Of All Players

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 20:  Rafael Nadal of Spain plays a backhand in his second round match against Ryan Sweeting of the United States of America during day four of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 20, 2011 in Melbourne, Aust
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    In his press conferences, the key quote that keeps coming for Nadal's mouth is, "The most important thing for me is to improve my game." 


    70% of professional tennis players are right-handed, while Nadal is left-handed, which is also one of the reason why he can hit winners by finding angles most players are not used to.

    The 24-year-old is effortless into trying to work on his weakest shots. It's impossible to win a major today if you only have one major shot.

    Players need to have at least two great weapons to be a top ten member and a contender at majors. Nadal's backhand has improved so much that it is now almost as good as his forehand.

    When Nadal won his first French Open in 2005, his backhand was good but conventional. Today it's almost as good as the forehand.

    The reigning US Open champion's backhand side is naturally stronger and more coordinated than most players' backhand side because he was born right-handed but plays left handed, so his backhand can become right-hand-dominant and therefore extremely strong.

    Nadal can also switch into a one-handed backhand during the course of a point, then use some slice to change the rhythm of a rally and surprise his opponents so often.

    Like Borg, he adapts his backhand from clay to grass quite easily: he hits with deeper length and less topspin on grass and hard courts.

5° The Serve

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 24:  Rafael Nadal of Spain serves in his fourth round match against Marin Cilic of Croatia during day eight of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 24, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Ge
    Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

    True Nadal will never serve like Andy Roddick or Roger Federer.

    But who tells him to do so when he obviously knows he needs to find in his own way the motion that would help him win free points more often.

    As soon as the World number one won the French Open, he decided he wanted to claim Wimbledon and with this goal in mind, he knew he had to shorten points and gain more free points.

    When came Wimbledon in 2008, he had changed his forehand with a quicker motion in order to be more reactive to fast balls and to become a better counter puncher.

    As far as his serve, he has acknowledged he will have a lower first set percentage but that is a compromise so he can reach higher speeds, to have a crushing serve and so to win free points.

    Last year was the culmination of five years work on the serve; the desired speed, efficiency and flow of aces. His technique is spot on with a way better transfer of his body weight forward.

    His speed is improving a lot too. At the US Open everybody was amazed by how powerful and efficient his serve had become.
     
    Now the 24-year-old can mix his serve and force his opponents to guess even more on where he is going to hit next.  


6° Runs Like a Rabit

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 24:  Rafael Nadal of Spain stretches for a forehand in his fourth round match against Marin Cilic of Croatia during day eight of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 24, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo
    Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

    Nadal's footwork is - after the serve - the most important ingredient to his success on all surfaces in recent years. Clay and grass are the sport's slippery surfaces.

    On clay, players remain balanced by sliding to a stop. Sliding on grass, however, results in stumbles and tumbles.

    The Spaniard rarely loses his balance when he's running after a ball. On clay, he slides only when necessary and one rarely sees him do it on hard courts or grass.

    Of course we can't forget to add, in case some has missed it, the footwork allows the 24-year-old to catch the ball wherever he stands on the court. If his opponents want to play some volleys, are drop shots, they better make sure it will end up as a winner, because if not they will rarely make the point.

    It's also amazing to watch the top seed dance around the ball as he makes his set-ups to ensure he is absolutely with the ball when striking.

    The Nadal haters would like to admit Nadal doesn't know how to volley. It's a given he will never be Pete Sampras, Stefan Edberg or Roger Federer when playing at the net.

    The Majorcan will still have some work to do on this shot, but it is largely underrate, because  he’s able to approach the net following a big forehand attack and finish the point.

    That has to do with his excellent footwork.

    Rafa  is also able to volley quite well and deep due to the fact that he has decided to play doubles in some of the Masters 1000 events over the last couple of years.

7° A Multi Surface Player

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    MALLORCA, SPAIN - MAY 2: Rafael Nadal of Spain in action against Roger Federer of Switzerland during 'The Battle of the Surfaces' at The Palma Arena on May 2, 2007 in Mallorca, Spain. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Some who keep pretending Nadal is a clay court specialist should see an eye doctor immediately!

    The Spaniard has matured into a world-beating player on all surfaces. While the majority of Nadal's grand slam titles were claimed at the French Open, his victories at Wimbledon in 2008 and 2010, the Australian Open in 2009 and the US Open in 2010 have made him one of just a handful of players in the open era to have won grand slams on all surfaces.

    Although his tenacious playing style is best suited to clay, Rafael Nadal has several strokes which put tremendous pressure on his opponents, regardless of the playing surface.

    Nadal's progression in the slams has been constant.

    The one slam to cause him problems, principally because his knees have troubled him so much towards the end of the season, was the US Open. He made sure to repair this mistake last September by defeating Serbia's Djokovic in 4 sets.

8° The Most Experienced Player Along With Federer

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 22:  Rafael Nadal of Spain towels down between games in his third round match against Bernard Tomic of Australia during day six of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 22, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Pho
    Matt Blyth/Getty Images

    Nadal could still improve while finding more ways to shorten the rallies.

    All his game used to be based only  on his heavy topspin forehand, tenacious court coverage and amazing athleticism. With his improved serve, he can  hits more free points. But there are still rooms for improvement which is a devastating news for his opponents.

    The World number one deserve his standing also due to the fact that he has learned quickly and find ways to correct his mistakes.

    He used to play close to 30 tournaments a year when he won the French Open the first time in 2005.
    His knee problems, which forced him to pull out of Wimbledon in 2009, was almost welcome news.

    Of course Nadal can now draw on the experience of his first Wimbledon win in 2008. Early in his career, skeptics questioned if Nadal could ever master the grass-court Grand Slam and his success at Wimbledon gave the top seed the self belief he can master the Deco Turf of New York.

    "I always thought it was going to be easier for me to play well in Australian than here in New York," Nadal said at last year's US Open press conference. "But at the same time, I always thought it was gonna be easier to play well here than Wimbledon. So you never know what happened in your career."

    But indeed he does know how to prepare before a major. His previous injuries thought him to be more careful with his body. That is why he started to reduce his schedule last year. He has also learned how most of his opponents managed to give him trouble in the past.

    Therefore he knows how to play against most of his toughest opponents.

    Moreover, Nadal needs to play a lot of matches in order to gain on experience and learn ways to beat his opponents the best way.

    That's why we have the following numbers: the Spaniard advanced to the quarterfinals in Melbourne for the 5th straight year. He has yet to drop a set at this year’s Australian Open—it is the 7th time he has reached this stage at a Grand Slam without dropping a set, alongside Roland Garros in 2007, 2008 and 2010, the Australian Open in 2008 and 2009, and the US Open in 2010. This is Nadal’s 7th Australian Open.


    Elsewhere, the top seed reached the semifinals at 9 of the last 11 Grand Slam events that he has played. His most recent loss in the quarterfinals of a major was at last year’s Australian Open, when as defending champion he was trailing No. 5 seed Andy Murray 63 76 3-0 when he retired with a right knee injury.

9 ° Best Winning Record Against His Main Rivals

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    MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 16: Rafael Nadal of Spain and Roger Federer of Switzerland enjoy the day during the 'Rally For Relief' charity exhibition match ahead of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 16, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia.
    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    There are only 3 active players who have a winning head-to-head against Nadal, which also explains why he is dominating his top 9 rivals.

    Russia's Nikolay Davydenko leads Nadal 6-4, while both Chris Guccione and Nicolas Mahut lead the World number one 1-0.

    The following stats against his main rivals will speak for themselves :

    Federer (14-8)

    Djokovic (16-7)

    Söderling (5-2)

    Murray (7-3)



10° Uncle Tony

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    LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 04: Tony Nadal, the uncle and coach of Rafael Nadal of Spain, looks on during the Men's Singles Final match between Rafael Nadal of Spain and Tomas Berdych of Czech Republic on Day Thirteen of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships
    Julian Finney/Getty Images

    Toni Nadal is Rafa's uncle as well as his coach.

    The one that makes sure his nephew has the proper training to win his matches as well as the proper attitude. He also know how to approach Rafa so he can take the positive from his loss.

    Toni is constantly reminding his nephew that his worst day on the tennis court is better than most people’s best day.

    “I tell him you must be always grateful of the life,” Toni Nadal said. “I think one of the most important things I say always to Rafael is to have a good face. Because in this life, the ball going out is not a very big problem.”
     
    Toni also admitts he can speak freely to Nadal because he accepts no money to coach him.

    Nadal agreed, telling The Guardian last November: “It’s important to have people around you with enough confidence to say if you are not acting in a good way. Normally, when you are at the top, people say everything is fantastic. Probably in that moment it is what you want to hear, but it’s best to be reminded how to act properly."