What Rafael Nadal needs to rethink now

Rafael Nadal needs to take the right decision.

                                  Rafael Nadal needs to take the right decision.

After the China Open, Rafael Nadal dropped out of the top 4 in the ATP Emirates Singles Ranking. We all know he did not fare well at the majors and that he had an injury-caused lay-off too. Understandably, the 14-time grand slam champion is disappointed with the way things unfolded this year.  This is what he had to say about the injury lay-off and how he is looking at things now.

“I worked so hard to be what I was in that moment, so when you break the rhythm with an injury, [it] is a little bit unlucky. And you need to accept and give more. And that’s what I’m doing. [It] has been a difficult moment of the year, and I am trying to finish well and [trying] to be ready again for the next season. That’s my real goal.”

This is quite the stage when champions review their game and try tweaking it to better compete with their peers. With Wawrinka and Murray having the best time of their careers and the emergence of fresh talents like Alexander Zverev, Taylor Fritz and Dominic Thiem, this is not an easy time for our aging Champions and Nadal’s no exception.

Rafael Nadal was seen running around his backhands to hit forehands at China Open 2016.

To us, it was surprising as he was not seen doing this for some time. Most of the Rafael Nadal fans were delighted to see this, too. So, what is Rafa thinking? It looks like he is trying to find his forehand-based A-game again that won him 9 French Open trophies. Its his forehand that generates vicious topspin. No wonder then, he is trying to make changes in his game in a timely manner so that when the season begins next year, he is ready to compete at his desired level for the big things.

Is the new tactic really going to be helpful for his cause? Isn’t he aging? Isn’t this going to be a tough ask for him? Isn’t it going to be tough on his wrist? Does he really need to discard his backhand like this? Let’s see.

Rafael Nadal’s backhand once helped him feel good during the clay season this year

About the best part of his season in 2016, the king of clay, Nadal said it was the period between Indian Wells and Roland Garros. Here’s the related excerpt from his recent China presser.

“I think if you ask me if I was satisfied during Indian Wells, between Indian Wells and Roland Garros, yes. I had been competing for every tournament that I played, and competing against all the players with good chances to have success. And that’s the most important thing, no? So the level of tennis had been high during that period of time. But, you know, [it takes] a lot of effort for me.”

He believes he was building momentum back then. He won Barcelona, Monte Carlo and was doing well until wrist injury hit him at Roland Garros. Well, in many of his good matches during this period, the best shots came off his backhand. He was not running around it. It helped him to cover the court, save his legs and wrist and to reinforce his baseline game. He was actually dealing damage also against Djokovic. This goes on to say that his baseline backhand shot did help him to get results and feel good about his game. He needs his backhand shot to be an important part of his baseline game.

Most aging champions try reducing their movement on court

Most aging champions mostly try to tweak their game so that they could cut down on the running and movements to better cope up with their fitter rivals. They try to make their game less physical to fight fatigue on and off the court and prevent injuries. We have seen Federer try things like SABR wherein he attempts to receive his opponent’s second serves close to the service line. Players also try to keep rallies short and therefore adopt a more aggressive game. This not a prospective idea for Rafael Nadal, we understand, who has been a defensive baseliner all his career. Instead, giving more role to his backhand in his baseline game can save him a lot of running, help him deal with intense rallies (especially on the faster set of courts on tour) and help him prevent fatigue. This is how he could augment his game as he is in his 30s.

Nadal cannot afford to aggravate his left wrist injury ever again

Nadal doesn’t need more injuries. Since 2012, he has missed 4 grand slams owing to these. Running around the backhand regularly in matches would mean more and more powerful forehands every match, each with a lot of topspin too. Since topspin requires you to exert a lot of power, it might not go well with his wrist injury problems. Playing more backhands would surely help reduce stress on his left wrist.

We know Nadal likes his forehand and that he builds confidence about his game by playing this shot well. Probably, this is why he is trying to play this shot so much now. But isn’t he overlooking the perks of playing his baseline backhand shot more? If his backhand once helped him to feel good about his game during the clay season this year, why won’t it help him again? Rafael Nadal needs to review his decision. If I were Rafa, I would be doing my backhand more right now. While he makes his moves, we will have to wait for 2017 to see how things unfold, and that if Rafa will be able to play competitively at the biggest of stages once again. Only then will we know if his present decisions have been accurate.

I would love to have your participation. Do join the discussion in the comments. Thanks!

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  • AD Roy

    Nice blog. Enjoyed reading the articles!