Paul Reveals How Nadal Plays Differently In Practice & Matches

The American faces the Spaniard on Wednesday in Paris
November 02, 2022
Tommy Paul reached a career-high No. 28 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in September.
Mike Lawrence/ATP Tour
Tommy Paul reached a career-high No. 28 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in September. By Andrew Eichenholz

When Tommy Paul played Rafael Nadal earlier this year in Acapulco, it was the first time he had faced a member of the legendary ‘Big Three’. In what seemed like a flash, the American trailed 0-6.

“I was so nervous [in] the first set. I lost the first set 6-0 and I was like, ‘I don’t think I’m going to get a game’,” Paul, who eventually lost 0-6, 6-7(5), told “I ended up starting [to] play really, really good tennis. He’s fun to play against.”

Not many players describe facing Nadal, one of the toughest competitors in the history of sport, as “fun”. But the 25-year-old is no stranger to standing across the net from the Spaniard.

“I practised with him actually three days ago,” Paul said. “I practise with him quite a bit, so it should be a fun match.”

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The pair will clash for the second time on Wednesday evening in the second round of the Rolex Paris Masters. It will be Nadal’s first singles match since the US Open. Although Paul trained with the 36-time ATP Masters 1000 titlist in the leadup to the tournament, he knows a match will be different.

“Practising with him is super different because he hits a lot harder in practice. He really hits through the court and then in matches the balls just jump a lot more. He hits slower, but heavier. It’s different,” Paul said. “Obviously he uses his lefty spin to his advantage as much as he can and everyone knows he’s Rafa, he’s not ever going to give up even if he looks like he’s out of the match, so that’s always tricky. It should be fun playing him.”

Nadal is not the first Grand Slam champion Paul has played in Paris. Two years ago, he lost a tough three-setter to Stan Wawrinka in the second round.

“If you don’t live for those moments, you probably shouldn’t even be playing tennis. That’s what all of us wanted to do when we were young: play on big courts against the best players,” Paul said. “I played Wawrinka here on Stadium, but it was during 2020 so we had zero people here, it was super weird. So I’m pumped to play in front of a full crowd.

“From what I saw with [Andy] Murray’s [match against Gilles Simon], it looked like they were pretty into it here, so it should be fun.”

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This has been the best season of Paul’s career. In September, he climbed to a career-high No. 28 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. The American has also claimed three of his five Top 10 wins. Paul will take confidence into his Nadal match after defeating another Spaniard, Roberto Bautista Agut, for the first time.

“This year it’s been a little more difficult [physically] because I played a full season for the first time,” Paul said. “The body’s tired, but I played really well today and obviously it’s not going to be hard to get excited to play tomorrow, so hopefully we can ride it out this week.”

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