Brain Game: Nadal’s Serve + 1 Proved Winning Math Against Djokovic
Hit a serve. Vaporize a forehand.
Rafael Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 to win his ninth Internazionali BNL d'Italia title in Rome on Sunday with his favourite 1-2 punch of hitting a forehand as the first shot after the serve leading the way.
Djokovic was a step slower after two grueling three-set night matches to reach the final and did not have his trademark speed around the court to counter Nadal's supreme clay court Serve +1 forehand tactic. Djokovic spent most of the match trying to initially attack Nadal's less potent backhand wing, but Nadal constantly found a way to turn backhands into run-around forehands, especially as the first shot after the serve.
Nadal's Serve +1 Groundstrokes
• Serve +1 Forehands = 42 (79%)
• Serve +1 Backhands = 11 (21%)
Nadal hit 79 percent (42/53) forehands as the first shot after the serve, instantly putting Djokovic on the ropes with heavy forehands that stretched the Serb out to the edges of the court. Why does Nadal have such a thirst for forehands right after serve? It's a bigger weapon than his backhand that can inflict more pain and deliver greater disguise with the open-stance footwork that takes away precious tenths of seconds of anticipation for opponents.
Watch Rome Final Highlights:
Nadal's Serve +1 Win Percentage
• Serve +1 Forehands = Won 71% (30/42)
• Serve +1 Backhands = Won 45% (5/11)
There is not a part of the court that Nadal will not run to in order to turn a backhand into a forehand, especially with this specific strategy to begin the point. Of the 42 Serve +1 forehands Nadal hit in the match, more than half (23/42) of them were returns directed back through the Deuce court to the Spaniard's backhand that he simply ran around.
Nadal's Serve +1 forehand strategy delivers so much power at the beginning of the point with the viscous "one-two" combination that he is able to effectively win the point before it matures into a lengthy rally, which normally becomes far more even. Nadal's lethal Serve +1 forehand combination ended the point in three shots or five shots a combined 63 per cent (19/30) of the time.
Nadal Serve +1 Forehand Points Won: Rally Length
• 3 shots = 10 points
• 5 shots = 9 points
• 7 shots = 4 points
• 9 shots = 2 points
• 11 shots = 2 points
• 13 shots = 2 points
• 17 shots = 1 point
Djokovic, widely regarded as having one of the best backhands of all-time, also did all he could to hit a forehand as the first shot after the serve. The Serb hit 71 per cent (56/79) Serve + 1 forehands for the match, winning just over half (52%) of them.
Double Digit Rally Length
A secondary area of domination for Nadal was in longer rallies of double digits, where 31 lactic-acid inducing points occurred. Nadal won a dominant 71 per cent (23/31) of these points with superior defense out wide in the court with both forehands and backhands, constantly wearing Djokovic down in the longer exchanges.
Djokovic hit 12 drops shots for the match, winning half of them. Five of the six drop shots he won were in rallies of single digits, but of the six he lost, only three were in single digits, while three were in double digit rallies where he looked to stop trading blows with Nadal from the back of the court.
It was an unusual final with an unusual score line between the top two players in the world. Could it be a dress rehearsal for a Sunday final in Paris in three weeks’ time?
Editor's Note: ATP Brain Game author Craig O'Shannessy is part of Novak Djokovic's coaching team.