Saturday, March 24, 2012


Why is Nadal so successful and how can he be beaten?

Until last year Nadal was the king of clay, winning the 2010 Monte Carlo Open with the loss of only 13 games during the entire tournament.  Clearly Nadal is doing something very right when he plays on clay.

Let’s look and see what Nadal is doing so well on clay and how he can be beaten.  firstly, we must consider the way players have been trying to beat Nadal over the last few years

The most comon tactic is for players to try and pressure Nadal.  During the 2008 French Open final Roger Federer tried to shorten the points and attack Nadal by changing out of the crosscourt exchange and hitting down the line as quickly as possible.  He also came to net to volley whenever the opportunity presented itself.  The theory was that Nadal is too strong from the baseline and trying to out rally him is pointless.  Unfortunately for Federer the result was one of the most one sided finals in years, and he eventually lost 1-6 3-6 0-6. 

Federer has the versatility but lacks the correct strategy

I have witnessed this many times whereby an opponent tries to attack Nadal and shorten the points, only to lose badly.

Although Nadal doesn’t lose often, when he does lose we need to learn what was different about those matches and what the opponent did to achieve success.  During the 2008 ATP Masters Series in Rome Juan Carlos Ferrero beat Nadal in straight sets.  By analyzing the difference between the way Federer played Nadal at the French Open in 2008 and the tactics adopted by Ferrero in Rome that same year we can begin to formulate a strategy to use against Nadal.

Federer adopted the following strategy…

·        Shorten the points.  Don’t get involved in long   baseline rallies – Nadal can stay out there all day!

·        Get out of the Cross court exchange and change down the line as quickly as possible – you can’t win a crosscourt battle with Nadal!

·        Nadal’s record on clay against the best in the world clearly shows that few can dominate him mentally or in an arm wrestle – again, shorten the points.

Juan Carlos Ferrero adopted the following strategy…

·        Don’t rush the point, be more patient. Nadal is essentially a counter puncher.  Trying to shorten the point feeds into his strengths.  Players who rush Nadal can only watch as he hits passing shots from impossible angles… over and over again.  Nadal feeds off opponents who want to increase the tempo of the points. Ferrero sent signals throughout the match in 2008 that he was prepared to stay on court all day and NOT attack the point early.  Send a message to Nadal that you will stay on court for as long as it takes and not take chances

·        Don’t be the first to change direction down the line.  Nadal waits for his opponents to change from the cross court exchange and hit down the line.  When an opponent hits down the line to him from the corners it leaves the other side of the court vacant.  Nadal now has the opportunity to start pulling you wide on that vacant side.  This is the beginning of the end. 

The correct tactic against Nadal is to keep hitting cross court and force Nadal to be the one to change direct first. This was a major part of Ferrero’s strategy in Rome and is the key to Djokovic’s ability to dominate Nadal today.

·        Another key is to dominate Nadal mentally.  When you continue to rally crosscourt with Nadal you effectively screw with his hard drive.  Without his opponent making frequent down the line changes you remove the first step to his overall strategy.  He no longer has his familiar platform to work from.  This is the way to dominate Nadal mentally and affect his decision making.

It was Djokovic’s crosscourt dominance last year that caused a major crisis of confidence in the Nadal camp. Unfortunately at present, only Djokovic can dominate Nadal in a crosscourt battle. 

Djokovic dominates the crosscourt exchanges, eliminating Nadals couter-punching

Federer is very poor tactically and seldom goes into a match with anything other than the hope that his talent will be enough.  At certain times he has unknowingly managed to get the patterns correct, but it’s obvious that Paul Annacone, Federers coach, doesn’t study the match tapes!

Andy Murray can dominate in a crosscourt battle but lacks the mental maturity to win against the top three on a consistent basis.