I learned something new about Rafael Nadal yesterday.
I have watched Rafa play A LOT of matches throughout his long career. I have poured over his match statistics. I have studied his mannerisms and even coached against him – with mixed success.
I took a few short videos of his practice yesterday at the 2022 Australian Open against Juame Munar. Why? I wanted to learn more about him.
Patterns emerge in our sport when you isolate something on the court and slow it down. Much easier to analyze.
When returning vs. a 1st serve, almost all players on the planet are going to take a single step before their split step. The reason is you really don’t have much time for anything else. A 200 kmh plus serve is hurtling your way and a simple step and split works just fine.
Once I watched his 1st serve return routine in slow motion, his routine became crystal clear.
- He does not take one step.
- He does not take two steps.
- He does not take three steps.
- He takes four steps!
Four steps and then a split. It’s pretty remarkable that his feet are that active before a first serve.
Watch the video below to watch the four steps and a split in action
Rafael Nadal 1st Serve Return Footwork In Slow Motion (2:54)
- Stand up right now and get into a return position just like Rafa. Then copy his routine.
- Take four quick steps and then do a split step. It’s not easy, is it!
- I imagine it will feel a little awkward to do that many steps before your split step. You need to practice this quite a lot in order for it to feel comfortable.
- Now go try it on a court in practice, and then try it in a match.
- Then email me (contact form at the bottom of the page) and I will add everyone’s comments to this blog post.
This is one area of Rafa’s game that you can directly copy and paste into your own game. Most junior and adult recreational players need to add better footwork to their return game. Sometimes there is no step or split at all before returning.
Try Rafa’s routine out and let me know if it works for you.