We all know that Rafael Nadal is the most dominant player on clay but what makes him such an unbeatable force on the surface. Let’s have a look.
Comparing the surfaces
Clay is the slowest of all the surfaces but there is more to it than that. Not only the loose particles on the surface take the speed off the ball, clay courts are sticky which makes the ball bounce higher as the tendency to skid reduces.
It strips the big servers and hard hitters of their greatest weapon and brings strategizing more into play rather than instincts which is tested quite often in grass and hard courts.
Nadal is an exceptional strategist which brings us to the next weapon that Nadal has in his arsenal.
Smartness on the Court :
Grass courts at its fastest are frantically paced. The big serves come booming hard and fast, if the return is good then a rally ensues otherwise it’s dominated by serve and volleys. Blink and you will miss it!
Clay courts being the slowest become a strategist dream, with players getting more time to think in-between shots – sort of like chess.
American tennis great Jack Kramer claimed, “To be a championship tennis player, you need the mind of a chess master and the endurance of a marathon runner.”
Nadal is an exceptional strategist. He knows when to attack, he knows when to defend, and he knows how and when to maneuver himself into winning positions on the court.
“He’s unbelievably fast, and he can keep going forever, which helps on the clay,” Australia’s Cash, the 1987 Wimbledon champion, said in an interview at Roland Garros.
“He keeps getting the ball back, his speed and athleticism is just phenomenal.
“His footwork on the clay is amazing, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody move that quick on the clay.”
Nadal is an amazing athlete, he is able to cover the court comprehensively and quickly without taking too much energy out of him.
Being Left – Handed helps :
Nadal is a left – handed player and that helps a lot. Had he been right-handed with the same game style, he would not have dominated players like Roger Federer in the way that he has.
His left-handedness helps to open up the court, and that advantage becomes even more apparent on clay where he can whip heavy short balls cross court or get the ball jumping up high to the single-handed backhand. It has been a huge asset to him, and one of the keys to him dominating on that surface.
Most of this comes down to simple Mathematics. 10% of players on the tour are left-handed, so they play right handed players and deal with the angles and shots they create 90% of the time, whereas right-handed players simply don’t get the chance to master the challenges presented by playing left-handers.
Nadal’s technique also sets him apart.
“We have never seen a player hit so much top spin before” said Cash, who now coaches American Coco Vandeweghe.
“The power he puts into the shots and the top spin is just very, very hard to control on a slow court over five sets.
The technique he uses generates a ridiculous amount of spin and gives it both pace and bounce.
It all comes to make a vicious combination. He wears an opponent down by reaching balls others can’t and prolonging points beyond what most players can comfortably last, puts them in the worst possible position with his court smarts, ruthless strategies and left-handed angled serves, then sends them a shot they’re not used to defending.
In the end, what makes Nadal so good aren’t just his shots or his willingness to run his socks off or his intensity; what makes him good is his urge to improve with every game, with every shot.
The scary bit is that even though he’s won six titles and is seemingly set for a historic twelfth, he still believes he can get better. And against that resolve, one can only hope.