Rafael Nadal's preparations for the 2021 Australian Open were far from ideal. A two-week soft quarantine in Adelaide was followed by a back injury, and the Spaniard was forced to withdraw from all of his matches at the ATP Cup.
Rafael Nadal has admitted that his back has been an issue during the first few matches in Melbourne this fortnight, but he has still managed to advance to the last 16 without dropping a set. On Saturday, Nadal defeated Cameron Norrie 7-5 6-2 7-5 to set-up a fourth-round showdown against Italy's Fabio Fognini.
After that last win, former World No. 1 Mats Wilander opined that Rafael Nadal's opponents - including Norrie - would be well-served by taking a page out of Novak Djokovic's tactics. Speaking to Eurosport, Wilander claimed that Norrie played Nadal's backhand far too often during their third-round encounter.
"I think he (Cameron Norrie) was playing way too much to Rafael Nadal's backhand and you can't do that. You go into this match thinking, 'If I'm going to beat Rafa, I need to look at what Novak Djokovic does', for example. Norrie went to Rafael Nadal's backhand 60% of the time," Wilander said.
Wilander went on to point out that Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal's biggest rival, plays a smarter tactical game against the Spaniard. The Swede believes Djokovic directs his shots to Nadal's backhand and forehand more evenly.
"When Novak Djokovic plays Rafael Nadal, it is literally 50:50 (hitting to the backhand and the forehand) and Djokovic has the best record against Nadal," Wilander added. "Going straight to the backhand is a nightmare scenario."
Novak Djokovic has had more success against Rafael Nadal than any other player
Mats Wilander's suggestion that players should follow Novak Djokovic's tactics against Rafael Nadal is fully backed by the the Serb's record against the 20-time Grand Slam winner. Djokovic has more wins against Nadal than any other player on the professional circuit.
The pair have met an astounding 56 times on the ATP tour, an Open Era record in men's tennis. Novak Djokovic has a 29-27 edge in their rivalry but has dominated their more recent matches, winning 10 of the last 14 encounters between the two.
With Novak Djokovic having his own physical worries - as evidenced during his third-round win against Taylor Fritz - it remains to be seen if the two legends live up to their seeding and reach the 2021 Australian Open final next Sunday.