Which Nadal, though? Sometimes Rafa is a fast-scrambling, winner-cracking phenomenon.
On many other occasions, though, he hits tepid forehands that land mid-court and are easy pickin’s for a blasting return.
But the other day at Indian Wells against Ryan Harrison, Rafa’s forehand suddenly became something I’ve never seen from him – laser-like, low, and sharp like a dart.
That’s a competitive forehand – Djokovic-esque, if you will, or Berdych-like, too.
That said, I don’t know how often Nadal can deploy the forehand from another mother (FFAM for short).
If it isn’t clicking, hit to his forehand and get ready for a lot of short balls. You have to hit an excellent passing shot, though.
Rafa famously runs down everything, so rush forward and crack the ball smartly so it lands exactly on the baseline, then angles away with the speed of light. (Easy. Just practice a bit.)
What else can you do? Honestly, that’s my main tip. Just make note of how many balls are landing mid-court, and capitalize. For some inexplicable reason, and bizarrely in one of the top guys, Nadal’s shots can sometimes resemble Andy Roddick’s more unassertive ones, and we all know how delightedly players teed off on those shots from Andy. (But judging by the FFAM, this is something Nadal has decided to address.)
Rafa is publicly annoyed with the new rule about umpires keeping players to 25 seconds between points, but I don’t see that as something you can use to your advantage. You could try playing extra-fast, but I don’t think that would rattle Rafa.
He’s a toughened veteran, used to taking on players with all their idiosyncrasies – that’s part of the game, no? You could try a little non-verbal trash talk, a body-language message that you think he’s being a prima donna if he makes an issue of the serving rule, but I don’t see that disturbing his concentration either, nor can I quite see how you could do it (an eye-roll won’t make enough impact from the other side of the court, but if there’s an opportunity, you could try hands on hips, operatic armlifts to the sky, etc.).
His serve. For a while, I had a theory that Rafa’s serve was his weak point. But I’m not sure anymore. You might try to assess that while you’re out there. (Where do I get these insights? I hardly know myself.) How well is he serving? Is the second serve acting like those mid-court returns? Zoom forward, pounce!
Lastly – oh, this is mean – you could try to out-tic him. You could bring more water bottles, and arrange them more strangely.
You could take forever to do something to your shirt before you serve. Would this unnerve the powerful Mallorcan? I don’t think so. But it might be fun for you and put you into a playful mindset. Ernests Gulbis, who Rafa plays next, says he wants to return to the way he played as a teenager – loose, aggressive, daring. Just add t-shirt rearranging into the mix, Ernie, and see what happens.