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Science behind Rafael Nadal's vicious forehand topspin explained

  • Rafael Nadal's legendary forehand topspin rests on the foundation of 3 distinct scientific parameters.
  • Nadal wields his spin like a weapon and owes all his claycourt success to it.
Sohinee Basu
SENIOR ANALYST
News
Modified 19 May 2020, 21:30 IST

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal

It is no secret that Rafael Nadal's greatest weapon is the vicious topspin on his forehand, which can get any opponent out of their comfort zone. And now we have a helpful break-down of the science behind the 12-time French Open champion's legendary topspin.

Known to produce spins that oscillate between 3600 rpm and 5500 rpm, the Mallorcan unsurprisingly holds the Open Era record for having won the most claycourt titles - 59. A video posted by Eurosport UK, as part of their ongoing "Players' Cut" series featuring Rafael Nadal, explains how the Spaniard has tempered his playing style to produce maximum damage on high-bouncing surfaces.

Dissecting the science behind the Rafael Nadal topspin

There is plenty of scientific technique involved in Nadal's ability to produce unerring accuracy and momentum on his forehand, which in turn enables him to strike winners at will. Wielding his topspin as a hammer-like tool, Nadal strategically looks to generate high bounce on slow, gritty surfaces - which can cause plenty of headaches even to the likes of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

As the video shows, there are three keys to Nadal's topspin: power, lag and snap. All these three actions are specific to the Spaniard and his body's bio-mechanics, which means they would be extremely difficult for any other player to replicate.


Rafael Nadal firmly positions himself before hitting a topspin forehand
Rafael Nadal firmly positions himself before hitting a topspin forehand

Rafael Nadal has spent years trying to perfect his unique style, and his entire game is designed to produce maximum topspin. 

It starts with the positioning. Before hitting a forehand, Rafael Nadal's legs are set apart so as to derive generate force from the knees and facilitate the full-swinging movement of his arm. The Spaniard also uses incredible footwork before launching into the shot, and all of this in tandem helps unlock the first key to his unique forehand: power.

The second feature that follows in quick motion involves the measured angling of the racquet. Rafael Nadal arches back his arm in such a way that a lag is created between the racquet head and his shoulder region. With the head pointing downwards and arm stretched back, there is plenty of room and time for generating acceleration - thus helping the Spaniard impart maximum velocity on the ball.

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Rafael Nadal uses topspin as a huge weapon
Rafael Nadal uses topspin as a huge weapon

The final part is the creation of the spin itself. Nadal creates a vertical swing with some nimble wrist action, which helps the ball to start spinning at the touch of the racquet. The rapid vertical snap of the wrists combined with the topspin effect ensure that the ball attains plenty of height and net clearance; many of Nadal's shots pass over the net at a safe distance of 1 metre.

Most players struggle with playing extreme topspin - even the greats like Federer and Djokovic. The kind of spin that Rafael Nadal is very difficult to control, and it also makes his opponents hit the ball from a higher point than they normally would - thus robbing them of power.

There's a reason why Rafael Nadal is so difficult to beat on clay, and especially on the high-bouncing surface at Court Philippe Chatrier. And now we know the science behind it too.


Published 19 May 2020, 20:59 IST
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