Can anyone stop Nadal’s drive for five at Roland Garros?

USA Today joins in on the Rafa media frenzy. Some experts:

Rafael Nadal is so ridiculously dominant on clay that theories on how to beat him have become tennis’ theater of the absurd.

“Spray some mace in his towel in the changeover,” top-ranked doubles player Bob Bryan quips.

“Attach a motor to your back so that your legs don’t have to beat him,” American veteran Vince Spadea offers.

Spike his water in the locker room “with some sleeping powder or some happy mushrooms,” Martina Navratilova jests.

The default response: bewilderment.

Happy ‘shrooms! I still say tranquilizer dart would be the way to go.

“I know (I am going to lose) one day or the other,” says Nadal, who responded to questions by e-mail through an interpreter. “Since I know it will happen, I am not worried about it. That’s life, the sport and the difficulty of tennis. However, I am right now only thinking about the first match. This is the way it is. Match after match.”

He’s just so damn….sensible.

Nadal’s swashbuckling virility on the court is counterbalanced by his humility off it.

Indeed.

Still, Nadal sheepishly concedes that breaking Borg’s record of four consecutive French Open titles is important to him. “I cannot say that it is not,” Nadal says.

Ha!

Under the watchful eye of his uncle and coach, Toni, Nadal has learned to dictate play as well as rely on his indefatigable defense. He can flatten his backhand to hit through the court, use his deft hands to end points at the net and stand closer to the baseline when necessary to steal time from opponents. He has improved his serve significantly and, as always, his forehand is a whirring, lethal weapon.

Nadal cryptically describes his evolution as being “more aware of the dangers.”

“Maybe you can say it is more aggressive, much less defensive and therefore I run less,” he says of his style today. “I am a better tennis player in general, but also on clay. I have learned a lot.”

Always improving.

For a player so deadly while on the move, Rafael Nadal’s biggest improvement surprisingly has taken place when he’s most idle: on his serve.

In the last four years, he transformed his 99-mph point-starter delivery into a weapon that can approach 130 mph. Consider: In 2004 Nadal won 77% of his service games and hit 57 aces. In 2008 he won 88% and smacked a career-high 283 aces.

Those adjustments have paid dividends on all surfaces. Nadal not only snapped Roger Federer’s streak of five Wimbledon titles last year, but he also captured his first major on hardcourts in the Australian Open in January.

“Rafa is playing even more aggressively this year,” fellow Spaniard David Ferrer said after losing to Nadal in the Barcelona final last month.

“Clearly it has been the best start of the year I ever had,” Nadal said.

Clearly.

Service stats from the article:

Year Aces First-serve% (rank) First-serve points won Second-serve points won Service games won Break points saved
2003
37
73%
70%
56%
79%
64%
2004
57
70% (1)
67%
54%
77%
61%
2005
219
69% (1)
71%
57% (2)
84%
64% (8)
2006
240
69% (5)
72%
57% (2)
86% (5)
68% (4)
2007
238
68% (5)
73%
56% (3)
86% (5)
67% (4)
2008
283
69% (4)
72%
60% (1)
88% (4)
67% (5)

Note: Numbers in parentheses indicate ATP Tour rank if the ranking was in the top 10

4 Responses

  1. kefuoe says:

    How about, “Hey Rafa, does this chloroform smell funny to you?”

  2. dutchgirl says:

    I simply can’t get enough of articles like these. Because I’m getting more nervous with every day that RG is getting closer and I need some reassurance. This is great reassurance. Keep bringing them on!

  3. Trish says:

    As has been said before — No need to worry, HE IS NADAL!

  4. sG says:

    This clay season has been so important for Rafa, not because of the wins per se but what he has seen of his closest competition. I think seeing their determination and skill sparks his determination and skill, his love of a challenge.

    Breathe with me now: one match at a time.