Nadal’s Plan: Strike Early, Win Rome!

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Two shots into each player’s court create a defining line in the sand – or crushed Roman brick – in a tennis point.

Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia final by owning the shortest rallies, especially the rally length 0-4. Nadal dominated in this category, winning 14 more points (50-36) than Djokovic. Once the rallies drifted to five or more shots, Djokovic built a 14-point advantage, 58 points to 44.

Own the short film. Lose it along. Add significant silverware to your Mallorcan trophy cabinet.

Djokovic’s advantage in longer rallies was even more significant in extended rallies of nine or more shots, where he won 20-5. Our sport is obsessed with consistency and greater shooting tolerance than your opponent, but the truth is, there’s no more important stat to own than gaining 0-4 shot rally length. Losing longer rallies rarely means you lose the game. The Rome final was further proof of how the winning titles in our sport actually play out.

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Nadal forehand
Earlier this week in Rome, Nadal worked on the practice court to tame his wandering forehand. He flew over him. He lacked form and control. As the tournament progressed, his hard work paid off and his forehand emerged as the key shot in the final.

Nadal found his lineup with his forehand early and often in the first set, crushing 15 forehand winners to just two for Djokovic. For the game, Nadal finished with 26 forehand winners against just 11 for the Serbian. Nadal’s favorite spot to hit the forehand winners was a standing bypass forehand in Deuce’s court, directing the ball upside down to Djokovic’s forehand wing. Nadal also hit a lot of rally forehands on Djokovic’s backhand in the Ad court, but the knockout hits were aimed more at the vacant Deuce court.

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Both players hit more forehands than backhands for the game, but Nadal was able to feast on a lot more, helping him control and manage basic rallies.

Total blows and setbacks of the rally

Nadal
• Forehands = 57% (184)
• Backhands = 43% (139)

Djokovic
• Forehands = 51% (159)
• Backhands = 49% (153)

Nadal’s average net clearance for the game was nearly a yard above the net at 0.96 yards. This forced Djokovic to make contact with the ball an average of 1.24 meters. The combination of increased height and strong spin landed Nadal’s forehands on the baseline where they were difficult to attack. Djokovic played lower on the net with an average net clearance of just 0.69 meters. This allowed Nadal to come into contact with his groundstrokes averaging just 0.98 yards. Nadal hit 80% of his shots from deep on the service line, while Djokovic was only 73%.

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Own the short rallies. Possess the strongest forehand. It is enough to own a given Sunday.

Overall, Nadal’s ability to thrive in the face of adversity, manage time, absorb power, be patient and unleash hell on the right ball was rewarded with another major title. He did it with the forehand and he did it being the first to attack in the point.