Rafael Nadal will be remembered as one of the greatest tennis players of all time. Perhaps no amount of praise can adequately describe this man’s mental fortitude.
Nadal reached his sixth Australian Open final by defeating Italy’s Matteo Berrettini in four sets in the men’s first semifinal on Friday. This was one top showdown that few predicted Rafa would be able to win. Only one of Rafa’s 20 Slam championships has been won at Melbourne Park, in 2009, when he defeated Roger Federer in the final in five sets. Now he has his sights set on winning the Rod Laver Arena’s second title.
For Nadal, hard courts have never been overly nice or hospitable. Rafa is unquestionably at ease on clay surfaces. Because of the Spanish tennis tradition, which breeds their players on red clay courts, that is his preferred surface. However, the number of individuals who believe Rafa isn’t comfortable on hard courts has reduced over the years, because to the incredible devotion and pure drive that Rafa has demonstrated via his incredibly physical brand of tennis on hard courts.
He may only have one Australian Open title to his name, compared to nine for Novak Djokovic and six for Roger Federer, and he may have won only four of his 20 Grand Slam titles on the hard courts of the US Open, but when it comes to giving 100 percent and more on a tennis court, regardless of the obstacles and adversity, few, if any, would rank higher than Nadal.
The manner in which Rafael Nadal defeated Denis Shapovalov in the Australian Open quarter-finals was another reminder of why they say you can never count Rafael Nadal out. Rafa was afflicted by a stomach illness after winning the first two sets quite handily and looking like he was on his way to a straight-set triumph. He couldn’t walk around the court and couldn’t serve or return serve effectively. Shapovalov felt he could push Rafa and completely change the contest. He did turn things around by winning the third and fourth sets, but Rafa was unfazed.
He modified his tactics, focusing on maintaining his service no matter what, and refusing to give up. While the commentators stated on life that many players would be pleased to concede the match in this scenario, the 6th seed went on and triumphed in 5 sets.
Rafael Nadal is still the dominant force in tennis, and he will continue to be so as he approaches Federer’s records, winning more and more to guarantee there is little doubt he is the greatest player of this age, if not all time. This is why.
One Season Wonder
Novak Djokovic is a one-season sensation. He stunned the tennis and sporting worlds in 2011 with an extraordinary run of performances, winning ten trophies in a row.
Would anyone be surprised if Nadal won ten titles? I don’t think so.
Djokovic is one of the finest players in the world, and he can defeat Nadal on his day, but in the long term, Nadal is the dominant force in the world of tennis. If Djokovic can maintain his current form and win well into 2012, he will have a case, but for the time being, Nadal is king.
He’s Won More Than Djokovic in 2011
Novak Djokovic may have dominated the tennis world in 2011, but there is one player who has won more matches: Rafael Nadal.
Djokovic has established he is the man in form this year, having only lost three times all season and starting the year on a tremendous winning streak, but as the year has gone, Rafa has also continued winning and winning.
He may have lost a couple of major finals against Djokovic, but it appears that Nadal will end the year with more matches won, and if the forthcoming Davis Cup final is included, they will have each reached the final of 11 events this year.
It’s incredible to imagine that despite a 64-3 record and a career-defining season, Djokovic hasn’t won as many tennis matches as Nadal, who presently has 66 victories in 2011. It’s tough to deny that Djokovic has had a stronger year, but to say he’s dominant is exaggerating.
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The King of Clay
Rafael Nadal is the unquestioned clay court king. Nadal has shown to be nearly invincible on clay, and he relishes the opportunity to do it during Europe’s midseason clay run.
Nadal has won at least three clay titles in every season since 2005, and 2011 was no exception.
This utter command of all things clay has been the core of Nadal’s success throughout the years, and it remains a firm foundation on which Nadal will rely to continue at the top of the game.
Nadal reached five non-clay finals in 2011, in addition to his five clay finals, demonstrating that he is still one of the greatest on every surface.
His domination in tennis is predicated on his accomplishments on clay, and he will continue to build on that success on all surfaces until he stops winning on the red stuff.
Best in Class
We’ve previously noted that Nadal plays left-handed, which gives him an edge over right-handed players and makes him a difficult opponent for them, especially because he’s a natural right-hander.
But what happens when Nadal himself faces a left-handed opponent? He demonstrates his intelligence.
When facing right-handed opponents, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Roger Federer are evenly matched, with victory percentages of 80-81 percent. Andy Murray isn’t far behind him, either.
When faced with a lefty, though, it is Nadal who comes out on top. When facing left-handed opponents, Nadal has an amazing 92 percent win rate. Andy Murray, who has won 72 percent of the time, is his closest competitor.
When compared to right-handed players, Nadal not only has the best victory record of any left-handed player, but he totally destroys all other left-handed players. Nadal is unquestionably the finest in his field.
Top 10 Record
The true test for every tennis player comes when they face an opponent ranked in the top ten in the world. The key here is consistency, and the best in the world will routinely win against the best of his peers.
In this category, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer both outperform the rest of the tennis world, with Nadal preserving his record as Federer fades.
Both guys have a lifetime victory record of 65 percent when facing top 10 opponents (both top five in the all-time list), with Novak Djokovic behind Andy Murray on 53 percent (57 percent).
But it’s Nadal’s consistency that stands out. Even this year, he has a 66 percent victory rate, much ahead of the declining Federer, who has a 53 percent win rate in 2011.
Nadal will remain consistent, winning about 65 percent of his major matches against big opponents, something Murray and Federer were unable to do in 2011, and which Djokovic has just done this season.
Djokovic is a class act, no question, but his 91 percent victory rate in 2011 is extremely unlikely to be sustained, and he is more likely to drop into the 60s, where he will compete with Nadal for dominance in the game.
Rafael Nadal possesses not just the skill to dominate tennis, but also the mindset to back it up. Tennis is a game that is sometimes played as much in the mind as it is on the court, and Nadal appears to have perfected the mental aspect of the game.
Of course, he is not faultless, and he still struggles with concentration and confidence; his recent performances in the Far East attest to this. But, after such a terrible season, who can blame him for a minor slip-up?
Nadal has a proven track record in stressful situations, and his ability to keep a cool head and stay focused has allowed him not only to ascend to being among the best but also outperform his competitors.
With a 73 percent victory rate in tie-break scenarios over the last 12 months, Nadal is the greatest in the game. Even during his greatest season, Djokovic struggled in high-pressure circumstances, winning only 53% of his tiebreakers in the same time frame.
If that doesn’t persuade you, consider Nadal’s track record while behind. While many players struggle to re-enter a match after dropping the first set, Nadal has the greatest record of any current player (and top ten of all time) for winning after losing the first set. Djokovic is ranked sixth.
This ability to stay cool and win the mental game will help Nadal maintain his dominance in tennis for a few more years.
Power And Aggression
Rafael Nadal’s power is the most evident reason he is and will continue to be dominating in tennis. After a few minutes of watching the Spaniard, it is evident that he can outmuscle any competitor on the circuit.
When you combine that power with an aggressive style of play, you have a really terrifying opponent. Nadal will continue to work from the baseline, releasing really strong strokes with his enormous amount of topspin and smashing out obvious wins whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Fans of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and even Andy Murray will argue that their player has more tennis talent than others, but the truth is that they just look better when playing.
Nadal has demonstrated an amazing level of talent and skill in tennis, and it is this power and aggression that has allowed him to dominate the game and will continue to allow him to dominate the game.
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