Beyond The Numbers

Net Profit: Rafa's Winning Formula At Melbourne Park

Nadal often came to net behind his first serve last year in Melbourne
January 16, 2023
Nadal won 72 per cent (121/167) of his net points on Rod Laver Arena last year.
ATP Tour
Nadal won 72 per cent (121/167) of his net points on Rod Laver Arena last year. By Craig O'Shannessy

There is an invisible alliance between first serves and net points.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of Rafael Nadal’s victory at the 2022 Australian Open uncovered the Spaniard was most successful coming forward when the point started with his first serve. Nadal came to the net 167 times in seven matches at Melbourne Park last year, with an eye-opening 50 per cent of them (84) occurring when Nadal started the point with a first serve.

2022 Australian Open: Nadal Net Points Played

Point Started Total %
1st Serve 84 50%
1st Serve Return 35 21%
2nd Serve 25 15%
2nd Serve Return 23 14%
TOTAL 167 100%

It’s important to note that the analysis includes net points played at all rally lengths, not just immediately following a serve or return. It’s logical to discover that Nadal’s pin-point first serve facilitates most net points, but it goes against the grain that Nadal came to the net second most when returning first serves. Nadal is known to take up an extremely deep return position well behind the baseline when returning first serves, but that clearly does not stop him from finding his way forward to the net to finish points.

Another hypothesis is that the server immediately hits a drop shot to take advantage of his deep return position. That theory gains legs when you see that Nadal only won 54 per cent (19/35) of points when the point started for him with a first serve return. That’s well below the win percentage of the three other scenarios.

2022 Australian Open: Nadal Net Points Won

Point Started Won/Played % Won
2nd Serve 22/25 88%
1st Serve 63/84 75%
2nd Serve Return 17/23 74%
1st Serve Return 19/35 54%
TOTAL 121/167 72%

Overall, Nadal won a commendable 72 per cent (121/167) of his net points on Rod Laver Arena last year, with points won behind his second serve, delivering the highest win percentage at 88 per cent (22/25).

When the point started with Nadal’s first serve, the Spaniard was able to play more than double the amount of points at net compared to finishing the point standing at the baseline compared to the other three ways a point started.

2022 Australian Open: Nadal Net Points vs. Baseline Points Played

Point Started Net Points Baseline Points
1st Serve 26% 74%
2nd Serve 12% 88%
1st Serve Return 11% 89%
2nd Serve Return 11% 89%

Nadal’s first serve was clearly a great enabler of his net game last year, and there is every reason to think the Spaniard will employ the exact same tactics this year in search of Grand Slam title number 23.

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