Rafael Nadal: The Legendary Lefty Who's Best Against His Own Kind
Rafael Nadal has the best winning percentage in the Open Era at 83.2 per cent, leading legends like Novak Djokovic (83%), Bjorn Borg (82.7%), Roger Federer (82.1%) and Jimmy Connors (81.8%). But according to the ATP Performance Zone, the Spaniard is even deadlier against lefties.
Nadal has won more than 87 per cent of his matches against fellow lefties, holding a 104-15 record. The 85-time tour-level titlist has won 14 consecutive matches against lefties, with his last loss against one coming at the 2017 Coupe Rogers in Montreal, where Denis Shapovalov upset him.
What’s the secret to his success against his own kind? Perhaps it’s that he doesn’t think too deeply about it.
“It’s not a question of lefty or righty,” Nadal said after beating another lefty, Gilles Muller, at the 2016 BNP Paribas Open. “I played against a tough player with tough conditions. In Australia [earlier in 2016] I played against a player who played a great match like [Fernando] Verdasco, and you can lose. I lost. That's it.”
Best Winning Percentage vs. Lefties (Active)
|1. Rafael Nadal||104-15||87.4%|
|2. Roger Federer||129-37||77.7%|
|3. Andy Murray||85-25||77.3%|
|4. Novak Djokovic||118-36||76.6%|
|5. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga||65-22||74.7%|
Not only is Nadal the best in the world against lefties, but the next active player on the Open Era list is Federer, who has won 77.7 per cent of his matches against lefties. That puts nearly 10 percentage points between them. Of course it doesn't hurt Nadal's numbers that he's never had to face the greatest left-hander of his era!
“I’ve played a few other lefties in the past, as well. I always thought it was hard to play left-handed servers because their strength goes into your weakness… It just doesn't work properly against the lefties,” Federer said in Dubai last year. “For a one-handed backhand player, I have a great record against left-handed players. Obviously Rafa has caused me the most problems throughout. That's because of the level of play he's able to achieve.”
On a recent Instagram Live, Federer asked Nadal why he plays left-handed when the Spaniard is naturally a righty.
“I cannot play righty. That’s just a legend!” Nadal said. “My basketball skills are with the right [hand], everything else is with the right, but not with football or tennis. I started playing with a two-handed backhand and forehand. The people I was working with probably didn’t know if I was righty or lefty.”
Interestingly, Nadal has only lost in straight sets against a lefty twice, and both of those matches came against Feliciano Lopez. The first occasion was at 2010 Queen’s Club, and the second was at 2014 Shanghai.
Best Winning Percentage vs. Lefties (Open Era)
|1. Rafael Nadal||104-15||87.4%|
|2. Pete Sampras||143-27||84.1%|
|3. Andy Roddick||73-17||81.1%|
|4. Boris Becker||135-33||80.4%|
|5. Jimmy Connors||179-46||79.6%|
The top 12 players on the Open Era list for winning percentage against lefties have all reached No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. Pete Sampras comes in second, at 84.1 per cent, with Andy Roddick third at 81.1 per cent.
Following Nadal and Federer on the active list are Andy Murray (77.3%), Novak Djokovic (76.6%) and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (74.7%). Unlike Nadal, no other member of the Big Four has a better winning percentage against lefties than they do overall.