Jan/19

25

The New Nadal

Rafael Nadal has transformed himself into a new form of a tennis demolition machine and this one may be more destructive than the previous one.

Nadal is playing more aggressive tennis this year, attempting to end the points earlier now with laser beam forehands down the line and the backhand is also blasted with more velocity.

Nadal has not lost a set all tournament at the AO and he clobbered the red hot upstart Stefanos Tsitsipas in resounding fashion 62 64 60.

Tsitsipas, who outsmarted Roger Federer in four sets earlier in the week, was highly impressed by the onslaught Nadal inflicted on him in the semifinal. “He’s very aggressive from the baseline,” the beaten 20-year-old said after the match. “It felt like a different dimension of tennis. He gives you no rhythm. He plays just a different game style than the rest of the players. He has this talent that no other player has. I’ve never seen a player have this. He makes you play bad.”

Nadal used to play a far more patient, physically demanding game which wore out most of the opposition. As several players noted in my book Facing Nadal, the 17-time major winner would allow his foe to hit a lot of balls and shots each point, allowing a good rhythm to be earned. “He lets you play,” was the common theme for some players about playing the Spaniard. But Nadal would eventually overpower and outlast most adversaries and move them around the court and into a state of fatigue, and then strike the kill shot. Nadal’s fitness, physicality, heavy balls and consistency were the foundation of his successes.

But now Nadal has made the decision at 32 to change into a player who ends points faster in order to preserve his body and extend his career. Compared to last year, Nadal is finishing points in the first four shots at a percentage increase of 10%, according to ESPN. Nadal is achieving this new method by taking balls on the rise more, returning serve closer to the baseline and just executing his shotswith an aggressive mindset.

So far so good, he has yet to yield a set in Melbourne. With 80 titles and over $103 million in earnings, this new Nadal style could garner many more accolades.

Standing in the path of Nadal to winning major title no. 18 will be arch rival Novak Djokovic, who leads their head to head 27-25. Their last clash was at Wimbledon last year, and it was possibly the greatest match and highest quality tennis this writer has ever witnessed. Each of the five sets was a war, with both players slugging it out for each point, with neither able to pull away from the other. Each set was extremely close and hard fought with both players making very few unforced errors. Djokovic ultimately prevailed 64 36 76 36 108.

Djokovic has called Nadal his “greatest rival.” Now Nadal has made the revisions to his style and he will seek to find out if he has improvised the successful new strategy to conquer his top-ranked nemesis.

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6 comments

  • Doug Day · January 26, 2019 at 12:12 am

    Old Rafa had strange lapses like losing to Djokovic in 3 in Paris in 2015. Djokovic has had respiratory issues. But, should the new & healthy Rafa lose to the Serb at Roland Garros again wouldn’t that argue for Novak as our new G.O.A T.?

  • Wayne Bradford · January 26, 2019 at 1:40 am

    If you think about it, Roger has made Nadal into the player we have seen at this Australian Open. He saw the success Roger had at skipping events and preserving his body. Nadal has done the same by strategically pulling out of many tournaments and is reaping the benefits. Especially since Nadal has been prone to withdrawing many, many times unlike Roger.

    It’s yet another way that Federer has made an invaluable contribution to the sport by showing others how to take care of themselves better. I only wish he would skip the French Open this year.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 26, 2019 at 8:26 am

    Doug, Think you are right and Djokovic’s successes continue to knock on that GOAT door and a win vs Rafa tonight would be a heavy thumping bang on that door that might knock it down. It’s inevitable to my eyes that Djokovic will shatter the Federer record of 20 majors.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 26, 2019 at 8:28 am

    Nadal has skipped many tournaments with injuries over his career, I think he’s missed about seven slams due to injury or whatever. I wonder how Pete Sampras feels about ending his career at 31, he surely could have kept going. Maybe he should have taken more breaks. Or maybe he played too much golf which aggravated back problems.

  • Wayne Bradford · January 26, 2019 at 2:23 pm

    Skipping tournaments has another benefit and that is of making tournaments grovel for you by increasing appearance fees. That’s what Fed did in Rotterdam last year and shows why he is such a smart businessman. It also gives the player a better feel for what his marketing value is.

    I am guessing the Uniqlo contract is worth much more including the Asian market than Nike’s.

  • Scoop Malinowski · January 26, 2019 at 2:52 pm

    Skipping tournaments does raise player’s value and demand to see them. I don’t see any increase in people wearing the uniqlo attire in USA. Have not heard anything about how that deal is paying off or losing for the company.

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