Rafael Nadal He is one of the biggest and best competitors in the history of tennis. He is a born winner who, in addition, has known how to adapt and stay current as the years pass and the age increases. The Nadal of now is far from being the Rafa of 2005: He no longer goes to all balls like a man possessed, has a much more precise serve that allows him to put himself in attack situations much earlier and, in general, optimizes his tennis better. A statistic of ATP allows us to see, of all of them, where Nadal feels most comfortable: when he plays between 5 and 8 blows per exchange.

Gone is the time of Nadal’s wild physical domain, several years that allowed the manacorí to be seen in all its splendor, displaying impressive mobility and an almost inhuman ability to return the impossible. The Nadal now is much more offensive and, above all, much more consistent with your body and the punishment that his battered knees give him. When the rally goes on between 5 and 8 strokes, Rafa wins a 59.7% of points, the one with quite a difference on the circuit. Diego Schwartzman, his most immediate pursuer, gets 55.9%.

This means that the manacorí uses between three and four blows at most to strike the point. It all starts thanks to a much deeper serve, with a much smaller margin than years ago and a renewed ability to look for corners. The normal thing is that Rafa looks for the reverse of the opponent and, from there, outlines with the right to already take control of the rally. This is something he does by reversing himself, and like a boxer, he jabs at the opponent’s right area. The objective is clear: then attack a short ball and close the spot there.

Nadal, if he comes across a powerful rest at his feet, has no problem “resetting” the point and hitting one or two more control shots. When the point is lengthened, however, the Spanish loses effectiveness. This is one of the reasons why Novak DjokovicSince modeling his game and upping his performance several gears, he has always been his biggest challenge: he neutralizes this pattern even when Nadal’s serve is very good. The ability to disable Nadal’s second or third shot thanks to deep setbacks from almost impossible situations, returning to the “starting box” from the start, is one of the most annoying things for Rafa.

Currently, parameters that exceed or fall below that range of strokes cause the effectiveness of Nadal get off. When the point falls between none and four strokes, Rafa barely exceeds 50% of points earned (52.9%), while when the rally extends beyond nine strokes, contrary to what many might think and of what probably happened at the beginning of his career, Nadal remains at 55.3% of points earned, just over four points below the previous range. The leaders in those scales are Daniil Medvedev (55% of points earned between zero and four strokes) and Yoshihito Nishioka (56.6% of points earned from more than nine shots).

This is just one of those cases in which the numbers allow us to endorse our feelings, make us see that tennis and the physiognomy of tennis players change and that adapting to it is crucial. The search for patterns as the ultimate objective and a Nadal that, specifically one of them, executes it perfectly.

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