Brain Game: Nadal Keeps It Short For Monte-Carlo Title
Spaniard shows clay-court success isn’t all grueling rallies
Rafael Nadal is a master illusionist.
He makes us think he dominates the longer rallies. He makes us focus on his athletic side-to-side movement. We see the “Spanish X” practice drill when he competes, moving up and back in the Deuce and Ad court, hitting a medley of forehands and backhands. It's all just an illusion.
Rafael Nadal defeated Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-1, 6-3 in the final of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters on Sunday by dominating the short points en route to winning a record-setting 10th Monaco title in just 76 minutes.
You would naturally think that two Spanish clay-court specialists competing at sea-level on a cool, overcast afternoon would grind and grind, and grind some more. This match simply didn’t materialise that way.
There were 45 points (48%) played in the crucial 0-4 rally length, with Nadal winning 32 of them to just 13 for Ramos Vinolas. You can look deeper into the match stats to try and figure out what happened, but these numbers leap off the score sheet more than anything else.
When the rally ended between five and nine shots, Nadal was basically twice as good as his Spanish counterpart. Nadal won 18 points in this secondary rally length to just 10 for Ramos-Vinolas.
Clay-court tennis is simply not what it used to be. Owning the longer points used to be the domain of three-time Monte Carlo champion Bjorn Borg. Thomas Muster also won Monte Carlo three times in the ‘90s with the same bruising baseline strategy. Longer used to be the norm. Today’s clay-court game represents a different era - a game style focused on the front end of the point rather than the back.
Nothing more illustrates this new dynamic than Ramos-Vinolas only winning four games in two sets against Nadal, but winning the longer rallies of 9+ shots 12-8. Ramos-Vinolas said in his post-match interview about Nadal that “he is a little bit better in everything.” The statistics prove otherwise. Ramos-Vinolas was actually better in the longer points, but there were not enough of them to make an impact.
The Nadal forehand was the difference-maker, accounting for 12 winners while yielding just eight unforced errors. He was constantly looking to hit a run-around forehand in the Deuce court, turning a good backhand into a more explosive forehand.
What’s so interesting is that Nadal’s average groundstroke speed in the final was less than Ramos-Vinolas - 119km/h to 122km/h. Hitting a bigger ball is obviously just part of the overall equation. Nadal also ran more for the match (1499m to 1386m), highlighting that dictating the point does not directly equate to less movement.
Ramos-Vinolas desperately needed to have one of the best serve days of his life to be competitive with Nadal, but only managed to make 56 per cent of his first serves. Nadal made 76 per cent to create yet another area of influence. Nadal backed it up by winning 70 per cent of his second-serve points, to Ramos Vinolas’ 43 per cent.
Superiority in clay-court tennis is basically identical to that on hard or grass courts: dominate the short points and walk away with the silverware.