Let me start off by saying that I’m a huge Rafael Nadal fan. I respect his talent. I respect his drive to be the very best. I respect the way he competes and handles himself during his matches. I even respect his entourage of family members he always has in his box supporting him during his matches. I mean, I’m sure they’re all totally insane and probably have spend most of his childhood yelling and throwing flower pots across the living room when he lost, but you have to have that type of demeanor to produce a player of that caliber. And even with that all being said … I still respect that!
Outside of tennis, Nadal seems like he’s a really nice guy who spends a lot of time smiling. In my opinion, he’s the perfect ambassador for the sport. So the point I’m trying to make here is that I like Rafael Nadal as a tennis player and as a person. In fact, I will even go so far as saying that he’s a level above Roger Federer. And if you should disagree with me, please try to explain his 14-7 record against him. Plus, he pretty much owns him in every grand slam final match on a variety of different surfaces. He’s made Federer cry more times than when I do when Rudy finally gets into that stupid college football game.
The bottom line is that Rafael Nadal is a special talent that is, at times, almost superhuman, but he’s not perfect. He has blatant weaknesses that opposing players haven’t taken advantage of over the years. I think many players and fans have failed to detect these weaknesses … but not me! I’ve been on to him this whole time! If I ever had the opportunity to coach a top 75 in the world player, I would sit him down and lay out a blueprint on how to beat the best tennis player in the world. And since I’m in a good mood today because the Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back at Starbucks, I will let you in on what needs to be done to beat the great Rafael Nadal.
A big weakness that Nadal has that can be exploited by an opponent is that he suffers from an extreme case of an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). In fact, he uses this disorder to his advantage when he’s out there competing. I’m a firm believer that his OCD helps him stay focused throughout a tennis match. And this deep OCD makes him one of the most mentally tough athletes that I have ever seen compete. I firmly believe that the most beautiful woman in the world could streak across a tennis court during one of his matches, and Nadal wouldn’t even notice her presence. Most players would laugh and ogle her, while Nadal would be staring at the ground. This is because he’s so compulsively into his routines when he’s not playing points that acknowledging anything else would disrupt his subliminal patterns. I feel that this is one of the major reasons that he never gets into any type of argument with a chair umpire. This is simply because yelling at a chair umpire in the middle of play would take him out of all his routines and fluster him tremendously.
Now, a lot of tennis players have strange little quirks that they do in between points. Andy Roddick paces quickly back and forth as if he’s waiting for a urinal to open up in a men’s room. Maria Sharapova stands with her back to her opponent with her head down as if I just approached her at a bar and was trying to start a conversation with her. These are two examples of relatively small doses of OCD that these players have developed over their lifetime of playing tennis matches. All players have their own certain routines, but Nadal is different. He has about 10 different things that he does that puts all others to shame.
First off … when Nadal gets on the court, he sits down, and then takes his sweet time arranging and setting up camp at his changeover chair. He always makes sure that when it is time for the coin flip, that the chair umpire and his opponent are always waiting for him at the net as he sits there futzing around with his power gel and towels. He never waits for his opponent, they always wait for him.
Next, and most importantly to him, is that he has set up always two water bottles in between his feet when he sits down at a changeover. Those water bottles stay perfectly positioned next to each other and they always have equal amounts of water in each bottle. There’s even a video on YouTube of a ballboy moving one of the bottles aside and then Nadal quickly reprimanding him not to touch them, then rearranging it back to the way he needs them to be.
Now when play starts, Nadal has a few more patterns that needs to be done in between points. He infamously picks at the back of his shorts just like we all do when we think nobody else is around. He always fixes and adjusts the level of his socks. Much like the water bottles, they too have to be at the same level on his calf. Before he starts each point, he makes sure the hair that sticks out from underneath his headband is tucked behind his ears.
With all of this stuff to do, it has helped Nadal always stay focused and become as mentally strong as he can be. So if you were a top 75 player and I was coaching you to play him, I would make sure that you try to take Nadal out of these routines. If you take someone like that out of their routines, then you take one of Nadal’s biggest strengths away from him … his mental toughness.
From the get go, when you go on the court, I would say to stay in your chair and make Rafa wait for you for the coin toss. Nadal probably won’t break, and it might get to a point where the chair umpire comes up to you and tries to pull you up from a chair like a high school student who stole someone’s seat in the lunch room. If this doesn’t work, a point has been made to him. Now as the match starts, at the first changeover while you are switching sides of the court, you “accidentally” knock over one of his water bottles. Trust me, Nadal would go crazy with high anxiety about this. He’ll look like me when I check my Ameritrade account and see how much money my stock portfolio has left in it. What the hell was I thinking buying that Chinese text messaging stock? Stupid … so stupid!
Moving right along … Nadal does all these quirks in between points, and because of it, he goes way past his allotted 25 sec. Sometimes, he’s clocked at around 50-60 sec. Right away from the get go, you should make an issue of this to the chair umpire and continue to pressure him to force Nadal to speed it up. This is a legitimate rule, and I can understand that if there’s leeway to go a little over sometimes, but not double or sometimes triple the allotted time. That’s ridiculous! During the whole match, every time you walk past the umpire’s chair you should address it.
Okay, so now we’ve disrupted his focus, and now we move to the tactical thing that needs to be done to beat him. In my opinion, I feel Nadal’s two biggest weapons are his heavy spinning forehand and his speed. Nadal gives many players fits, especially Federer, by hitting heaving spinning forehands that immediately hit the ground and fly up to his opponents shoulders. This shot is especially difficult to handle when he’s playing on clay and when he’s playing guys who have one-handed backhands like Federer. Another huge weapon that he has is his speed and his ability to run down balls that seem far out of reach. This is usually followed by a Nadal fist pump, and a very deflated opponent. Combine these two things, and it makes beating him almost an impossible task.
So the advice I would give you (a top 75 player) would be to simply, pound his backhand. Now I know this sounds like advice you would overhear from a parent during a 10-min. break when you split sets at a 12-and-under tournament, but it will take two of his weapons out of the mix. Nadal hits his backhand relatively flat. In fact, every player pretty much does. It’s almost impossible to hit super heavy two-handed backhands. Plus, if you watch carefully, Nadal chips a lot of backhands as well, and his chips really don’t impress me at all. So, by pounding that backhand side, you would be able to have opportunities to take advantage of what presents itself from using this tactic. And you would be keeping him in that corner instead of allowing him to use his speed all around the court. Now are you going to hit every ball to that side of the court? No, of course not! But you are going to try to for the majority of the time, and use this tactic especially during the big points (break points opportunities, first points in games, etc.).
So there you have it … a blueprint of how to beat the greatest tennis player in world. Try to take him out of his routines, try to take his speed away and try to pound his backhand … simple, but effective. If you do these three simple things, you might have an opportunity to beat him one day. And remember, if that doesn’t work, there is always the Tonya Harding way! Good luck!
<p>Tennis Pro Eric Meditz may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org</p>