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Brief Glimpses of the Resurgence of Rafael Nadal

392   //    23 Aug 2018, 13:43 IST

Very few players can match the amount of top spin Rafael Nadal generates off his forehand wing. Nadal averages a whopping 3,200 rpm and generates a maximum top spin of 4,000 rpm. In this regard, let us imagine that someone's average is slightly better than Nadal's top spin range. It does not mean that this particular ability alone will help them win matches against him. It applies to Rafael Nadal, the man himself. It is not just the top spin but the manner in which Nadal puts that weapon to use, determines the outcome of rallies. If Nadal's top spin can trouble his opponents, what about his court coverage skills? Any other deeper analysis of his match metrics would only reveal some staggering numbers. Nadal is obviously unique in terms of his style of play. Injuries have been his constant companion. At present, Nadal is just three behind Federer’s tally of 20 grand slam titles. Nadal’s resurgence to the top of the ATP rankings is inexplicably extraordinary.

Rogers Cup Toronto - Day 7
Rafael Nadal's forehand loaded with
top spin
 is a lethal weapon

Earlier this year, Nadal was comprehensively beaten by Dominic Thiem in the Mutua Madrid Open. For the Spaniard, it was just a temporary setback - one loss after a record fifty consecutive sets won on the red dirt eclipsing John McEnroe's feat. But a few doubters thought that Nadal's clay court supremacy was in danger. In Madrid, Thiem did most things right on that day. As a result, the day belonged to him.

Weeks later, in Rome was Zverev, a rising star among the next generation players, poised to defend his title. Maybe this was his best chance to cement the doubts already created by Thiem - doubts about Nadal's ability to withstand high quality clay court resistance. He was waiting to dethrone the King of Clay. The tall German had the match on his racquet. But it was Nadal who turned the match on its head. Zverev lost the plot. For all his baseline blitzkrieg, Zverev was decimated. Nadal won the mouthwatering clash and pocketed another ATP Masters 1000 trophy in May, playing on clay.

The Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2018 - Day Eight
Nadal with his trophy, after decimating Alexander Zverev

Later on, during his French Open preparations, Nadal was asked whether a French Open win without Roger Federer's participation in the tournament would mean anything less to him. But, he expressed that any French Open win would mean 'exactly the same' to him. His response only reiterated his love for the game. It is quite obvious that the Tennis world never doubted his unwavering focus and determination. But Nadal's response was a sign of things to come.

This Mallorcan native has made it a habit - hitting his forehand returns hard and fast, and making his beleaguered opponents look for support from the crowd, in order that they get motivated to fight and compete. For instance, in the ATP Masters 1000 Italian Open event in Rome, Novak Djokovic attempted to topple Nadal, searching for dark spots on the baseline. That contest will remain etched into the fans' memory, for the simple reason that Djokovic was left to draw some inspiration from the spectators. In the semi-final duel, despite the fact that Djokovic was hitting high quality winners off his wings (both forehand and backhand) while trying to take the opener in the tie-break, he was beaten black and blue. He was vying for a ‘come-back-win’ in the second set. Unfortunately, he lost his serve, and finally, the match. Thus, a resurgent Nadal 'knee-bent' on destroying his fellow players' hopes, only meant that the world was all right. Rafa is a rapacious bluefish, marauding opponents' 'baseline-crab-pots'. He plunders long rallies to snatch every game, set, and match from his rivals!

The Internazionali BNL d'Italia 2018 - Day Seven
Nadal's game derailing Djokovic's plans in Rome

If I were to write personal e-mails to some of the players on the ATP circuit I can give them a piece of advice: Do not give Nadal short balls to hit; do not allow him to dominate the baseline rallies; do not hesitate to use drop-shots from time to time; do not mind playing the 'serve-and-volley' game to mix it up; do not target his backhand wing overmuch. But for all that, quite astonishingly, this sermonizing will only be more frustrating than allow Nadal to win match after match and have a massive pile-up of wins in clay court contests. This is because, the 'don't do' list is definitely not endless. However, if we ask those players that have the potential to beat Nadal, many of them will be just as clueless as I am.

2018 French Open - Day Fifteen
Dominic Thiem tried in vain, to conquer Nadal at the French Open, earlier in May

In as much as Nadal's game patterns are apparently simple to decipher, unsurprisingly, things get even simpler when we quickly discern that it is Nadal who ultimately decides the outcome of long rallies and hard-fought points on court. Moreover, it is an understatement if we say that players do not understand a good amount of Nadal's playing patterns. All top players know how well he plays. Usually, Nadal tries to wear his opponents down; bludgeon them to defeat with his heavy and ferocious forehand winners. He uses his mesmerisingly ugly defence (especially if you are a Federer fan), to slug it out. Having said that, I might just ask his opponents to fight hard, never give up, try their luck instead. But never mind, they might still get vanquished by the man from Mallorca.

If the Tennis world knows that one can only watch Federer glide on grass courts and score points with consummate elegance, what of Nadal? Strain one's knees as much or twist their elbows when watching Nadal live? His is not just clay court affinity, but 'promises of undying love for all things Clay'!

2017 Australian Open - Day 14
style of play: Up and running, Nadal at full stretch

The Thiems and the Zverevs and the Djokovics will try to get on top of this Tennis fireball. Some may fail and some may not succeed! But Nadal will go on. Anyway, writing about this 'Nadal-monotony' presumably adds an air of freshness to my creative genius. No matter how evolved a player Nadal is, the La Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy has become Rafa's teething ring! I do not hate Nadal. But I am a Federer fan, nevertheless. Now, let me get ready with sheets of paper or keep my notebook plugged in, to assess Nadal's baseline metrics come the US Open, just as Craig O'Shannessy would do.

Rafael Nadal Photocall After French Open Victory
Rafael Nadal's record-extending 11th French Open title

Roger Federer defended his Australian Open title this year, with an age-defying performance. Three time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray has just returned to tour level action. Novak Djokovic has won his Career Golden Masters 1000 event, beating Federer in Cincinnati Open. As per her own standards, Serena Williams is not out of the woods yet. Has the world of Tennis returned to a semblance of normality? As long as Nadal keeps winning, the answer is a firm yes. You never know. Rafael Nadal might just reign at Flushing Meadows as well. Let the US Open began.

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