© Peter Staples/ATP Tour

Rafael Nadal finished as year-end World No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings for the fifth time in 2019.

Why Nadal Is The Game's Best Pressure Player

Spaniard finished top of 2019 Under Pressure LEADERBOARD

It’s quite difficult for coaches to simulate pressure on the practice court for their players.

The following drill goes a long way to achieving just that, zeroing in on the “crunch time” moments that matter most to the end result.

  • Start your service game down break point at 30/40
  • Similarly, begin your return game at 30/40 where you have the opportunity to break on the very first point
  • Play a tie-break at six games all if you get there
  • Make the match a one-set shootout, mirroring the pressure of a third set

What should you call this drill? How about “Rafa’s Under Pressure Drill”, as Rafael Nadal was the leading player in 2019 on the Infosys Under Pressure LEADERBOARD with a 253.1 rating. The index features the following four metrics, which are all included in the drill above:

  1. Break Points Converted
  2. Break Points Saved
  3. Tie-Breaks Won
  4. Deciding Sets Won

What’s interesting is that Nadal didn’t finish first in any of the four categories in 2019. However, once accumulated into one index, his overall performance in pressure situations rose to the top.

2019 Under Pressure LEADERBOARD

Rank Player Rating
1 Rafael Nadal 253.1
2 Roger Federer 244.8
3 Dominic Thiem 242.8
4 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 238.7
5 Guido Pella 236.3
6 Novak Djokovic 234.5
7 Nick Kyrgios 233.9
8 Cristian Garin 233.6
9 Felix Auger-Aliassime 232.1
10 Fabio Fognini 226.8

Nadal finished second in the index in 2018 to Kei Nishikori and was 10th best in 2017 when Federer finished first. The only other year he led the Under Pressure list was in 2010 with a 252.0 rating.

Break Points Converted
Nadal went 53-7 at ATP Tour and Grand Slam events in 2019 and won 45.0 per cent (250/556) of break point opportunities. The three tournaments where he impressively converted more break points than he lost were:

Event Win %
Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters 57.6% (19/33)
BNP Paribas Open 56.0% (14/25)
Roland Garros 53.0% (44/83)

Break Points Saved
Nadal impressively saved 68.4 per cent (158/231) of break points last season at ATP Tour and Grand Slam events, with the following three events being the most impressive.

Event Win %
Laver Cup 89% (8/9)
Internazionali BNL d'Italia 87% (13/15)
Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell 77% (17/22)

Tie-Breaks Won
Nadal is placed 12th best overall in his career with tie-breaks won at 60.8 per cent (243/400). He was at an almost identical mark in 2019, winning 60.9 per cent of tie-breaks, which placed him in 15th position on the ATP Tour last season.

Deciding Sets Won
Nadal has won 68.9 per cent of deciding sets in his career, which is the third-best success rate on the ATP Tour. That elevated to 75.0 per cent in 2019, which was also third-best last season.

As coaches worldwide know all too well, any chance to simulate the pressure of a match in practice is welcome. These four specific areas all coming together into one pressure-packed practice drill provide a unique insight into how Nadal thrives in the crucible moments of matches that have defined his career.

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