Home > Tennis > Roland Garros 2013: Rafael Nadal is Peaking At the Right Time

Roland Garros 2013: Rafael Nadal is Peaking At the Right Time

[By Anand Ramachandran]

The Build Up

The latest edition of Djodal is here. With a cover-story on their current form, regular feature on their rallies and special feature on the meaning of another Slam win for either, it promises to provide another 4 hours of engrossing entertainment.

Are we going to see anything dramatically different from this impending encounter? Both Nadal and Djokovic have probably improved their games to the best levels possible, give or take a few percentages. And both are more or less complete players; which probably means that you cannot analyze the rivalry based on a single shot or two.

It would seem as of today that the rivalry has reached a state of dynamic equilibrium. In the beginning it was Nadal who was dominating, then Djokovic reeled off a set of back-to-back wins, then Nadal turned it around the next year. But it also seems that the number of consecutive wins going to either player is also coming down with time. I, of course, am risking lack of statistical data in calling out such a prediction. If true, though, we are headed for a rivalry whose equality is dead-locked.

Djokovic has the more complete baseline arsenal, while Nadal’s game has non-uniformities – just his forehand would find a place in the Hall-Of-Fame, while his backhand is a rally shot (which takes on a different colour altogether when he is trying to pass). So patterns of play are possible against Nadal, while not against Djokovic, and that helped Djokovic to six consecutive wins. But Nadal could tilt the percentages towards himself using his foot-speed to deploy the inside-out forehand – metaphorically speaking, finding another gear in their encounters last year.

So finally, what are the odds for today?

Rafael will win if …

He takes it point by point. This match is for him, all about breaking the patterns that have helped Djokovic and there is no formula to break patterns. It involves thinking out the points and improving the percentages of counter-play and nobody is a better strategist than Nadal on clay.

He also featured an improved serve and backhand against Wawrinka and one cannot say it was not aimed at the semifinals more than at Stan. A solid backhand cross-court would come in handy in digging himself out of trouble when Novak uses his forehand-inside-out, down-the-line-backhand combination; and a solid serve will help him hold serve against Novak’s barrage of returns.

Most of all, Nadal should not panic when Novak takes huge cuts at his short balls and succeeds. Receding into defence wouldn’t help as Novak is probably one player that Rafael cannot outrun.

Rafael will lose if …

He lets Novak into his head. How much has Rafael gotten over the six consecutive final losses against Novak? The fact of the matter is, Novak can catch fire and run away with a few games, and it will take Rafael a bit more effort than that to string together a set. If Rafael doesn’t treat such phases as just local trends in the match, he can “go back to Mallorca and fish.”

Intangibles

The weather is always an intangible isn’t it? Give Rafael a sunny day with dry-courts and you will spend your time reaching for backhands above your head. Give Novak a damp clay-court and you can have a lesson in transitioning from defence to offence.

Novak is a very emotional player and during the darkest moments of his time on court, he tries to channel what seems to others to be a sense of despair to produce inspired tennis. Would the death of his mentor put a dent in that?

Prediction

Rafael has peaked at the correct time for this semi-final. The chances of a sloppy game are at a minimum. Expect Rafael to turn the tide during crucial moments in the match with some display of clutch tennis.

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Categories: Tennis

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