Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic: Compared in 10 Categories

Rohan SubraSenior Analyst IOctober 21, 2011

Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic: Compared in 10 Categories

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    Had this article been written a mere year and a half ago, it would not be Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic

    In 2010, Nadal was seemingly on top of the tennis world, having won the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open, giving him his eighth, ninth and 10th slams. The person being compared to him would have been Roger Federer.

    The Swiss Maestro was the person who came closest to matching Rafa's level last year, as he won the Australian Open.

    Then, all of a sudden in 2011, a new Novak Djokovic emerged. He came out on fire, winning at least 40 matches in a row.

    This year, he won three out of four slams, and has established himself as the top player in the world.

    But the question is, how much better is he than Nadal?

    In the following slides, I will give each player a rating on 10 for 10 categories, and at the end, they will be added up and compared.



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    Rafa has an excellent forehand. Not only does he use his left-handedness to hurt an opponent's backhand, but as everyone knows, he generates a ridiculous amount of spin.

    The two things that play a role in the spin are the way he drops his wrist under the ball and the way he brings his racket over the same shoulder, rather than the "windshield wiper" finish that most players use.


    Novak's forehand has gotten a lot better in the last year. He is one of the players who uses the "windshield wiper forehand" that was mentioned above.

    Though he doesn't get as much spin as Nadal, he gets more pace, and he can dictate play extremely well with this shot.

    Rafa: 9

    Novak: 9


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    Nadal's backhand is his weaker ground stroke, but it's not a shot that can be preyed on by opponents. 

    Like many other aspects of his game, the Spaniard gets an excellent amount of spin on his backhand, but not as much pace. He can't really hit winners with it, unless he has a relatively short and slow ball but, Rafa is extremely consistent on this flank.


    Before 2011, Djokovic's backhand was considered one of the best in the world.

    This year, it's considered the best backhand in the world.

    For a shot that he hits so hard, Novak is unbelievably consistent, and he flattens it out to make it a devastating threat for adversaries.

    Rafa: 9

    Novak: 10


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    In recent months, Nadal has started to go to his slice backhand a lot, rather than driving through the ball.

    It's not a "knife" like Federer's slice, that is hit with so much underspin and pace that ball is very sharp, but it normally suffices as a neutralizing shot for Nadal.


    The slice really isn't a shot that Djokovic uses very often.

    He tends to go on the attack more often, and hits through the backhand.

    Rafa: 8

    Novak: 7


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    Rafa's serve is a complicated matter. Sometimes, it is mediocre and averages about 110 m.p.h. However, it can also be a canon, like he showed at the 2010 US Open.

    Last year, in preparation for Flushing Meadows, Nadal put more pace on his serve so that he could shorten points. He was successful at the tournament, and started hitting some serves at 130 m.p.h, which really showed a huge change in him, as the serve is one of his weaker points.

    This year, he normally opts for consistency, but at times, he will go for a hard ace.


    This man's serve cost him a great deal in 2010.

    Last year, he had more double faults than aces in total, something unheard of for a player in the top three (though it is a testament to the rest of his game).

    This year, his serve has been fantastic; it has been consistent and hard, and it has come up big for him in crucial stages.

    Rafa: 7

    Novak: 9


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    In my opinion, volleys have always been an underrated aspect of Nadal's game. In the days when he and Federer used to face off all the time, Federer's feather touch made Rafa's volleys look second rate, even though they are solid.

    He doesn't try to be "cute" when he volleys, so not a lot of drop volleys come off his racket. Nadal tends to punch it back deep, which can be very difficult to return well.


    Like everything about Djokovic, his 2011 net game has come out ahead of his 2010 net game. 

    He has found great touch with his volleys, and is closing points off with them a lot more than he used to. Therefore, he now has much more confidence in approaching the net, and does so more much more often.

    Rafa: 8 1/2

    Novak: 8 1/2

Return of Serve

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    Nadal possesses the second best return in the world. He has excellent reactions and is very good at shortening his groundstrokes so that he can return in hard, but there is one problem: The Spaniard's mentality isn't always very attacking. Rafa often likes to defend, and he doesn't always step into his return of serve.


    Whose return is better than Nadal's?


    If you put your serve anywhere near this guy, he will get it back hard and deep, and it will give you hardly any time to react for your next shot. It's not necessarily hard, but it's a tough shot to return.

    Rafa: 9

    Novak: 10


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    What can I say?

    In terms of preparation for the next ball and things of the sort, it is very hard to have bad footwork and be at such a high level.

    Both of these guys have perfect footwork.

    Rafa: 10

    Novak: 10


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    This picture shows you just how fast Nadal is. Whether it underwent some serious photoshopping or not, the idea is completely true.

    Rafa can get to almost any ball played on the court, and every single opponent of his has had trouble getting the ball by him, because he is just so darn fast.


    The speed has also been an aspect of his game that he has improved this year.

    He has been very close to as fast as Rafa this year, but not quite.

    Rafa: 10

    Novak: 9 1/2

Mental Strength

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    Rafa has always been admired by tennis fans, and some of that is due to his resilience.

    Resilience has played a huge part in his success over Federer in recent years, as he has saved countless numbers of break points when he really needed to.

    Resilience has helped him to shake off whatever negative things happened on the court.

    Resilience is a major factor that he was No. 1.


    Djokovic is also amazingly strong mentally.

    He lets things go, often because he has a very light attitude—not shown in the picture above—and he can laugh it off, as he has done in recent times.

    Whatever it is, it is something that is much less defined with him than with Nadal. 

    Nonetheless, equally effective.

    Rafa: 10

    Novak: 10


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    OK, this is a complicated matter.

    Nadal leads their encounters 16-13.

    However, Djokovic has won all six of their matches this year. He has asserted his dominance over Nadal by crushing him, to the point where Rafa was so desperate for a strategy against Novak, that he began moonballing.

    Of course it didn't work, Djokovic just hammered every ball for a winner.

    Nadal simply doesn't know what to do against Djokovic.

    However, because Nadal leads the total head-to-head, and Djokovic has won the last few, I will give them an equal amount of points.

    Rafa: 10

    Novak: 10


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    ...And the totals are:

    Rafael Nadal: 91 1/2

    Novak Djokovic: 93

    So, according to my calculations, Djokovic is better than Nadal.

    Do you agree or disagree?

    Please leave your comments and feedback.


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