Don’t Stand In The Wrong Spot.
Rafa is a lefty. He likes to serve wide in the Ad. “Like” is an understatement…
G’day from Roland Garros 🙂
Rafael Nadal defeated Roberto Bautista Agut 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 on Court Suzanne Lenglen yesterday. Roberto is currently No. 18 in the world – with a career-high of No. 13 in October 2016. He is one of the best clay-court players in the game and has five ATP World Tour titles to his name, coming on clay, hard, and grass. He is rock solid.
It was such a pleasure to sit a few rows back and watch Rafa in full flight against Roberto yesterday. Rafa was dominant in all areas of the game. He clobbered 18 forehand winners, won 11/18 at the net, and won an outrageous 73% (19/26) behind his second serve. He is seeing the ball like a watermelon.
But something kept bothering me – something out of place. I went back through the photos I took and found it. The out of place was… Roberto.
In the Ad court, Roberto was standing to return serve like he was playing a right-hander – not the premier left-hander in the world!
Every time Rafa began the point serving in the Ad court, everyone knew that out wide was the primary target. He has one of the nastiest sliders in the game, pulling the returner out wide past the doubles alley to return serve.
It’s what he does best. I know it. Rafa knows it. The guy selling chilled champagne right outside the stadium knows it as well. Everyone seemed to know it… but Roberto.
Firstly, let’s consider where Rafa DID hit first serves for the match.
Rafael Nadal – 1st Serve Location
|1St Serve Location||Deuce Court||Ad Court|
Rafa stuck to the gameplan – like glue. He constantly served out wide in the Ad court and reaped the benefits of his favorite strategy. Why? Was it because he just hit his spots all day? Or was there something more to it – something more to do with Roberto?
Here’s the breakdown of Rafa’s 1st Serves Made & WON from the Ad court.
- WIDE – 15 Serves Made – 14 Points Won
- BODY – 3 Serves Made – 1 Point Won
- CENTER – 2 Serves Made – 1 Point Won
This is crystal clear. Nadal owned the Ad court because he owned the wide serve. Was Roberto sitting on it, trying to take it away? Actually, just the opposite…
Roberto is standing well inside the SINGLES line to return serve! How is that possible? He should be all the way in the alley – in fact, both feet standing in the alley to “visually” take away the wide slider. It also lets him lean forward on the return instead of leaning sideways to hit it. An important point to remember is that you can’t cover everything – you can’t successfully cover out wide and down the center. Roberto needed to shut down the wide serve first and foremost. You simply can’t from THAT starting position.
This is what Nadal sees. He sees a wide-open space out to the backhand to make a first serve – that he will then follow up with a Serve +1 forehand. The point is basically over right there. Pour the Veuve Clicquot please…
Here’s another example, with Roberto standing even further to the middle – covering the middle first! This serve went wide, and Roberto lost the point. That pattern happened again and again for Rafa yesterday.
What’s so weird is where Roberto stood to return in the Deuce court. He actually had a foot in the alley, but the majority of first serves went down the center.
Lastly, let’s take a look at Nadal returning in the Deuce court against Roberto’s natural righty slice serve out wide. Rafa is absolutely taking the serve away with his court position. THIS is what Roberto failed to do with Rafa serving in the Ad court.
This error happens all over the world, every day, with players at all levels of the game. We stand where we feel comfortable, rather than stand where it’s best against different opponents. Roberto likes to stand there, and it works a lot against right-handed opponents. It did not work at all against Rafa yesterday.
Learn from this, and make the necessary adjustments in your game.
Lastly, more than 75% of all breakpoints in tennis are played in the Ad court. These “King-Maker” points matter the most. Stop hitting so many groundstrokes up and down the middle of the court in practice, and start improving your Ad court return. It’s what’s for breakfast (to go along with your coffee & croissant).