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Rafael Nadal wastes no time getting ahead of his opponents during the European clay-court swing.

Think You're Gonna Break Rafael Nadal From 0/30? Read This First...

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers shows how Nadal is especially dominant at the start of games

Divide and conquer. The way to win big battles is to cut them up into smaller, more manageable ones. It’s also an ideal way to understand the constricting pressure Rafael Nadal applies at the beginning of a game against his opponents on clay courts.

An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of Nadal competing in just the first two points of the game when serving and returning at the five biggest European clay-court events uncovers that he is almost unstoppable if he creates early separation.

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The five tournaments are the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, the Mutua Madrid Open, the Internazionali BNL d’Italia and Roland Garros.

Nadal played all five events from 2015-2018 but withdrew in the Round of 32 of Roland Garros in 2016 with a left wrist injury. Nadal has won 80 titles in his career, with these five tournaments representing 58 per cent (46) of that total.

Rafael Nadal 2015-2018 / Career

Event

2015-18 Titles

2015-18 Win/Loss

Career

Career Titles

Monte-Carlo

3

18-1

68-4

11

Barcelona

3

16-1

58-3

11

Madrid

1

14-3

49-11

5

Rome

1

11-3

56-6

8

Roland Garros

2

20-1

86-2

11

TOTAL

10

79-9

317-26

46

1. Nadal Serving: First Two Points Of The Game
In the past four years at these five events, Nadal has astonishingly lost serve only 12 times out of 424 service games when leading 30/0.

It’s the next best thing to automatic, and here’s where the battle gets even harder for his opponents. After playing just two points on serve, Nadal is more likely to be at 30/0 than either of the other two scores.

Nadal: Point Score Probability After Two Points Serving
30/0 = 46% (424/921)
15/15 = 43% (393/921)
0/30 = 11% (105/921)

Nadal is still well in command when serving at 15/15, holding 83 per cent (324/392) of the time. Even from the perilous position of 0/30, Nadal is still effectively in break-even territory, rallying to hold 49 per cent of the time.

Rafael Nadal: Percentage Of Holding Serve

Tournament

15/15

0/30

30/0

Monte-Carlo

78% (67/86)

50% (13/26)

98% (79/81)

Barcelona

89% (57/64)

50% (9/18)

95% (69/73)

Madrid

81% (57/70)

41% (7/17)

98% (79/81)

Rome

80% (48/60)

42% (5/12)

97% (61/63)

Roland Garros

85% (95/112)

53% (17/32)

98% (124/126)

TOTAL

83% (324/392)

49% (51/105)

97% (412/424)

2. Nadal Retuning: First Two Points Of The Game
While Nadal was more favoured to lead 30/0 after two points played when serving, his opponents are far more likely to lose one of the opening two points against the Spaniard when he is returning.

Nadal: Point Score Probability After Two Points Returning
15/15 = 55% (458/831)
0/30 = 25% (211/831)
30/0 = 19% (162/831)

Nadal forces his opponents to 15/15 55 per cent (458/831) of the time, instantly spiking the pressure metre. What’s fascinating is that his opponents slipped to 0/30 25 per cent (211/831) of the time, which was more often than they enjoyed a 30/0 lead, just 19 per cent (162/831) of the time.

The end result is that Nadal navigates himself to 30/0 when serving more than twice as much (46% to 19%) as his opponents.

Rafael Nadal: Percentage Of Breaking Serve

Tournament

15/15

0/30

30/0

Monte-Carlo

40% (37/92)

85% (39/46)

20% (10/49)

Barcelona

44% (38/87)

76% (29/38)

8% (2/26)

Madrid

35% (33/93)

70% (19/27)

4% (2/48)

Rome

35% (22/63)

62% (18/29)

15% (6/39)

Roland Garros

54% (67/123)

80% (57/71)

12% (8/68)

TOTAL

43% (197/458)

77% (162/211)

17% (28/162)

Nadal’s most eye-popping return stat is that he has broken serve at Roland Garros 54 per cent (67/123) of the time when his opponent has served at 15/15 in the past four years. The game is just beginning, but Nadal’s hidden edge to break serve is already in full swing.

Playing Nadal in any of these five events is a monumental challenge. He boasts a career win percentage of 92 per cent (317/343) during the European clay-court swing, and he has suffered just nine losses there in the past four years.

Giving Nadal an early lead in the game makes winning it nearly impossible. Playing boldly against Nadal early in the game to grab the initial score advantage certainly has its merits.

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