Rafael Nadal def. Nick Kyrgios 7-6(0), 5-7, 6-4
Where you return serve and where you rally are the not same locations.
The 2022 Indian Wells quarter-final between Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios offers a prime example of players’ different targets when returning a serve and developing a rally.
Return Of Serve
Players generally have a defensive mindset when returning first serves. The immediate goal is to get the ball back into the court and avoid a return error. The highest percentage place to aim is right down the middle of the court to take the singles sidelines out of the equation. Returning second serves is a more offensive situation, where you can still attack deep down the middle and also have more confidence going wider.
2022 Indian Wells: Nadal v Kyrgios Return Location (Hawk-Eye)
As you can see from the Hawk-Eye graphics above, both Nadal and Kyrgios targetted the middle third of the court the most when returning serve.
Nadal hit 50% of his returns right down the middle of the court, while Kyrgios hit 53%. The clear goal is to get the ball in the court and land it in the middle of a big target. This strategy also yields a strong, secondary element in that it does not automatically provide an angle for the server to attack with.
The second highest location for each returner was going to the backhand third of the court. Nadal hit 29% of his returns to the wide third of the court to Kyrgios’ backhand, while Kyrgios directed 34% to Nadal’s backhand third of the court.
Middle first. Backhand second. Forehand last.
This strategy was employed by both players. Solid logic.
Once the return was put back in play, hitting down the middle third of the court was no longer the preferred option, as you will see from the Hawk-Eye graphics below.
2022 Indian Wells: Nadal v Kyrgios Rally Location
Nadal only hit 14% of his rally balls down the middle third of the court, while Kyrgios was a little higher at 21%. The number one place both players directed the ball was at their opponent’s backhand. Nadal hit 49% of all groundstrokes at the wide third of the court to Kyrgios’ backhand, while Kyrgios hit 44% of his shots to out wide to Nadal’s backhand.
There is clear logic for this change in strategy between returning and rallying.
In the 25 Golden Rules of Singles Strategy, the role of the forehand and backhand are explained with a sword and shield metaphor. The forehand is the sword you attack with the most, and the backhand is the shield you generally defend with.
Two different shots. Two different roles.
What Nadal and Kyrgios were both trying to do was match up their sword with the opponent’s shield. That’s the optimal way to attack.
Here’s the average forehand and backhand speed for the match.
Average Forehand Speed
- Nadal = 71 mph
- Kyrgios = 73 mph
Average Backhand Speed
- Nadal = 66 mph
- Kyrgios = 68 mph
Both players averaged hitting forehands harder than backhands, and both players hit more total forehands than backhands.
- Forehands = 138
- Backhands = 119
- Forehands = 168
- Backhands = 93
The No. 1 goal of the forehand is to force an error. The No. 1 goal of the backhand is not to miss.
Does the return and groundstroke strategy from Nadal and Kyrgios wash down to the amateur level? You bet it does! Returning middle is a great way to put more balls in the court and cut down angles. Taking your forehand to your opponent’s backhand will also give you a strategic edge from the back of the court as well.