We have got Rafa all wrong.
Look up the word illusion online and you get the following three definitions.
- a deceptive appearance or impression.
- a false idea or belief.
- Rafael Nadal.
Ok… I threw the third one in there, but for good reason. He absolutely belongs! In fact, he could be the poster child.
An analysis of Rafael Nadal’s opening round 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(9) victory over Simone Bolelli at Roland Garros 2018 highlights just how off base we are about how he navigates his way to victory on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Firstly, let’s focus on what we think he is – a grinder of epic proportions.
Look at the pic below, which was from the second game of the match. We see Rafa standing halfway to Spain to return serve. Soooo far back! We naturally think he is seeking a long rally where he can grind his opponents into the beaten earth.
Our perception is that the longer the rally goes, the better he becomes. Not so.
Consider this: Rafa didn’t drop a set against Bolelli but LOST more points in longer rallies than he won in this match. When the rally reached a minimum of just five shots in the court, Rafa won 43 points, and the Italian won 44.
Rally Length: Points Won/Lost
|Rally Length||Nadal Won||Bolelli Won||Nadal +/-|
Total Rally Length
- 0-4 Shots = 60% (129)
- 5-8 Shots = 29% (62)
- 9+ Shots = 12% (25)
Rafa doesn’t care about long rallies. His primary focus is squarely on the…
- Serve +1
- Return +1
Rafa is just like the rest of us. He wins the match much more in his first two touches of the ball (0-4 Rally Length) than anything that happens after that.
Want to win like Rafa? Stop hitting forehands crosscourt until your eyes roll into the back of your head on the practice court and start developing your serve, return and the two shots that immediately follow.
That’s the secret sauce of our sport. Even for Rafa. Even on Court Philippe Chatrier.
For a deeper analysis of the massive impact the length of the rally has on winning a match, I highly recommend THE FIRST 4 SHOTS.
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Cheers from Paris,