It’s a sledge hammer / French = marteau de forgery
G’day from Roland Garros!
Rafael Nadal is blasting his way through the 2017 French Open draw. He is now in the semi finals, and will battle No. 6 seed, Dominic Thiem, for a spot in the final.
The beating heart of Nadal’s dominance is his forehand. The Nadal forehand has accounted for 61 groundstroke winners so far, and forced many more errors.
So how is Nadal hitting his winners? Where is he standing? Where are they being directed to? Is he standing inside the baseline? Glad you asked 🙂
There are seven separate focus points to the brilliance of Nadal’s forehand. The first thing to understand is to simplify the baseline. I cut it up into FOUR equal areas – A, B, C and D. Position A is always out wide in the Deuce court. The areas always stay the same, regardless of a left-handed or right-handed player.
Nadal Forehand Baseline Locations
We’ll break down our Nadal forehand analysis using these four locations.
FOCUS 1: Where Are Nadal’s Forehands Going?
Nadal loves to rally to the backhand side of his right handed opponent. That means trading blows through the Ad court. But that’s not where he finishes – by a long shot. Here’s the breakdown of winner locations.
- To Position A = 44 (72%)
- To Position D = 17 (28%)
Almost three out of four forehand winners go to THE OPPONENT’S FOREHAND! This particular strategy works at all levels of our sport. You primarily rally to the backhand – which is not as potent. The opponent may miss less on their backhand, but you will also get hurt less. You rally there to move your opponent back with depth. Then you move them wide. That opens up a big hole in…. Position A. Yes, you too can copy this strategy at home!
FOCUS 2 – Where Is Nadal Standing?
Nadal hits forehand winners from everywhere on the court. Here’s where he was standing when he made contact with the 61 forehand winners.
- Position A = 8 (13%)
- Position B = 19 (31%)
- Position C = 14 (23%)
- Position D = 20 (33%)
Position D is the narrow winner. In the past two weeks, Rafa is really feeling the running forehand out wide in the Ad court. The other area is run-around forehands in Position B. Opponents are trying to get it to his backhand, but a couple of shuffle steps later and Nadal is pole-axing a forehand winner.
FOCUS 3 – Nadal Hits Forehands To Position A
As we know, the vast majority of forehand winners go to Position A. Here is where he is standing when they go to A.
- From A to A = 3 (7%)
- From B to A = 10 (23%)
- From C to A = 12 (27%
- From D to A = 19 (43%)
Wow! The down the line forehand from Position D to Position A is what he is feeling the most. Down the line forehand winners are not easy, but Nadal is crushing them so far this year at Roland Garros.
Now, let’s COMBINE A and B as a Deuce court category, and C and D as Ad court.
- From Deuce Court to A (cross court) = 13 (30%)
- From Ad Court to A (down the line) = 31 (70%)
This is very telling. Nadal typically stands in the Ad court and crushes forehands cross court to his right-handed opponent’s backhand. He is still doing that, at the beginning of the point. We now know, from that same court position, he is really wanting to change directions with the forehand for a winner down the line as well.
FOCUS 4 – Nadal Also Hits Forehands To Position D
Twenty eight percent of total forehand winners went to this location. Let’s see where he was standing when he went there.
- From A to D = 5 (29%)
- From B to D = 9 (53%)
- From C to D = 2 (12%)
- From D to D = 1 (6%)
The key here is the disguise of the run-around forehand. The opponent hits the ball to Position B to hopefully make Rafa hit a backhand. He doesn’t. He runs around it, and now the open-stance of the forehand wonderfully disguises his intentions. Opponents think cross court, probably to Position A. As soon as they lean towards A, Rafa pulls the trigger to D, wrong footing them.
FOCUS 5 – Serving / Receiving
What happens before the forehand winner matters. For instance, is he serving or receiving. Well, here’s the breakdown.
- Serving = 35 (57%)
- Returning = 26 (43%)
Nadal is having more success hitting forehand winners behind his serve. The serve instantly puts the opponent on defense, and then Nadal can lean on the ball much easier. Makes perfect sense. This dynamic is alive at all levels of the game.
FOCUS 6 – Nadal Forehands Come Inside & Behind the Baseline
Look at Nadal when he is returning. He stands sooo deep in the court to let the speed of the serve slow down, allowing him to make a bucket load of returns. But he does not stay back there. In fact, most of his forehand winners are actually hit standing inside the baseline.
- Standing Inside The Baseline = 34 (56%)
- Standing Behind the Baseline = 27 (44%)
This is so important to note. Nadal is not just a deep grinder. He may start back, but he is moving forward, or “climbing the ladder” up the court as much as he possibly can. Of the 34 winners he hit standing inside the baseline, 18 of them were approach shot winners he hit while on the way to the net to finish the point.
FOCUS 7 – Rally Length
The longer the rally goes, the more Rafa gains control. This is probably the most amazing stat of all. The following data is only for rallies of double digits – 10 shots or longer.
Forehand Winners in 10+ Shots Rallies
- Rafael Nadal = 16
- Opponents = 2
That’s mind blowing. The longer the rally goes, the chance of Rafa’s opponents out-working and/or outmaneuvering him drops dramatically. You either attack Rafa early, or basically not at all.
Average Rally Length When Forehand Winner Hit
- Rafael Nadal = 7.0 shots
- Opponents = 4.6 shots
A rally of four shots means that each player hits only two shots each – and one of them is going to be the serve or return. So the best time to hit a forehand winner against Nadal is the very first shot after the serve or return, which is called Serve +1 or Return +1. Once it gets past there, you may as well grab the ball and hit it up into the upper deck of Phillippe Chartier.
Rafael Nadal Forehand Analysis
Without Positions A through D, the baseline is just a big paddock. You have got to break it down to understand it, which makes it much simpler to understand.
Dominic Thiem plays Rafa in the second semi-final today – not before 3.30pm. These exact same forehand patterns of play that Rafa has enforced to the semi final will also be on full display against Thiem. Rafa will try and bully Thiem’s backhand in an Ad court with a forehand to backhand exchange. When Thiem ultimately drops a ball short, Rafa is going to move up and rip it down the line. Look for it. It will most certainly be there.
Positions A, B, C, D are explained in greater detail in the 25 Golden Rules of Singles Strategy.
To celebrate the finals here at Roland Garros, all seven Brain Game Tennis products are automatically discounted 20% for the next three days (June 9 – 11).
Cheers from Paris,