Buzzing on Yahoo Sports:

Busted Racquet

Rafael Nadal 2012 preview: Can he get rise up against Djokovic?

View gallery


nadal falls rome 11

As the 2012 season begins, renowned tennis coach Patrick Mouratoglou is previewing the upcoming year for the top five players in men's tennis. Today, he begins with Rafael Nadal and his road back to No. 1.

This will be an essential year for Rafael Nadal. He lost a lot in 2011: His No. 1 ranking, his US Open and Wimbledon titles and his domination on clay. That was painful enough. But knowing that there was a guy on the other side of the net who was better than him? That made it even harder for the sensitive Spaniard.

In order to understand better how Rafa feels, we need to look back so you realize how outstanding he was. The Spaniard won everything, of course, but even more than that, he never stopped to move forward. Not a single player was really an issue for him in the past. Each time he lost he found a solution to get his revenge in the next match.

When he started, his main goal was to win the French Open. Once achieved, he decided to focus on Wimbledon, a much different tournament. Rafa changed his technique and won in his second finals appearance there.

It was all good until this terrible losing streak against Novak Djokovic. The Serbian crushed Nadal six times in a row on finals. Nadal lost some of his length of shot since Djokovic knows how to play inside the court and how to take the ball early in order to avoid being upset by Rafa's topsin. He's struggling on his forehand in front of those accelerations with flat and long shots. On each opportunity, Nole is attacking this side, forcing Nadal to play shorter in order to then dictate the point.

The Spaniard hates being stuck on his backhand diagonal, because he prefers dictating with his forehand while turning around his backhand. But the Serbian, with his topspin forehand, can take Rafa out of the court and is able to force Rafa to remain on his backhand. And then he's searching for all the shorter balls in order to attack.

Finally, Rafa's second serve is often lacking length and weight, so Novak knows how to take advantage of it in order to take the lead of the point. As if it wasn't already enough, Djoko perfectly studied Rafa's game and knows beforehand the sequences he likes. It's how he knows each time how to counterpunch him, by anticipating some stereotyped tactical options.

But beyond those results, Rafa looked resigned. He wasn't able to find the solution, whether it was on hard courts, grass, and even on clay. Those failures attacked his mind, usually his strong suit. Even he admitted "he didn't believe enough against Djokovic." So, after winning the technical and tactical fight, the Serbian also has Rafa's mind.

View gallery


nadal fist pump

In order to regain his confidence, Nadal will have to improve in some areas:

The serve. Even if it has already improved, remains something he has to get stronger on. His percentage of points won on his first serve isn't enough, with 71 percent during the year. Against someone returning as well as Djokovic, this percentage is going down and Rafa struggles. To improve on this, he will have to work on his rhythm and playing loose on the wrist so he can speed up the whip.

The backhand. Even if this shot has also improved, it's still too fragile and Novak is using the diagonal on this shot in order to take the lead on the point. Rafa will have to be better set on the ground and to better transfer his body weight.

Ball length/direction. The Spaniard must find more length of striking. If he fails, he will be exposed to the aggression of Djokovic's attack. In order to get this needed length, he has to play with more margin regarding the net. Beyond the advantage it offers length wise, it is also an advised way to slow the game in front of a counterpuncher like Djokovic. It's better to slow the points down than to speed them up because Djokovic thrives on the speed and can do it even better than Nadal

The strategy: Nadal's game is an open book. He's often predictable, but his sequences are so efficient that it's never easy to counter them. So now, Rafa's challenge is to use his forehand in the most efficient way, and it'd be even better by turning around his backhand. On this position on the court that he loves, it's very rare for him not to end with a winner because he can touch all the zones. So he'll have to tactically find how to get in the position most of the time.

As far as I'm concerned, this year will be decisive for Rafael Nadal. If his motivation level remains lower than during the previous years, due to the Djokovic failures mentioned above, then he'll be in danger. His game relies on his mind. Rafa needs to find the way back to victory, and fast. He knows it, he wants it. But will he be able to do it?

View Comments (1)

Recommended for You

  • Former CB Brian Baucham Sues USC and Lane Kiffin

    Former USC Trojans' cornerback Brian Baucham is suing the university and ex-coach Lane Kiffin, according to an Associated Press report. In the September 2012 game, Brian Baucham collapsed during the second half and was taken to the hospital by an ambulance. Baucham hadn't played in USC's previous…

    SB Nation
  • Mark Cuban made comments about the NFL six months ago and he was right

    Peter King of Sports Illustrated looks back at the comments from Maverick owner Mark Cuban about the future of the NFL. ESPN's Marc Stein has a great write up about the premiere of the Berlin Tall's new movie.

    SB Nation
  • Rumor Roundup (Sept. 23, 2014): Sting, Austin Aries, Cesaro and the future of the Bellas

    Speculating on the rumors surrounding pro wrestling is a favored pastime of many fans, perhaps second only to actually watching the matches. In this daily column, we take a look at the latest rumors being churned out by the pro wrestling rumor mill. None of this has been confirmed as legitimate…

    SB Nation
  • Wayne Simmonds was ejected because his opponent was too slow

    Wayne Simmonds was kicked out of the third period against the Leafs on Monday night in the preseason opener. Korbinian Holzer of the Maple Leafs was really not alright with the above hit from Wayne Simmonds during the third period of the Flyers game against Toronto on Monday night. Simmonds gave…

    SB Nation
  • DeSean Jackson doesn't realize the Washington Redskins lost to the Eagles

    Apparently Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson did not realize his team lost to the Philadelphia Eagles yesterday. Yeah, Jackson scored, he taunted Eagles players and fans, and he got his 'revenge' on this play. Check the scoreboard, DeSean.

    SB Nation
    Sun, Sep 21
    Washington34 - 37Philadelphia
    Game Recap
  • Report: Steelers signing James Harrison after losing Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones

    In order to bolster their linebacking depth, the Pittsburgh Steelers are signing former NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison. The Pittsburgh Steelers had a convincing 37-19 win over the Carolina Panther on Sunday, but it was costly. Jarvis Jones was placed on IR-Recall after suffering a…

    SB Nation
    Sun, Sep 21
    Tennessee7 - 33Cincinnati
    Game Recap
  • UFC on FOX 13: Joe Riggs, somehow, set to make return against Ben Saunders on Dec. 13 despite gun shot

    How's this possible? HOW'S THIS POSSIBLE? Less than six months after a horrific near-death experience, Joe Riggs plans to return to the Octagon to fight Ben Saunders in a Welterweight showdown planned for UFC on FOX 13 from U.S. Airways Center in

    SB Nation
  • Play

    LeBron & CP3 -- Train Together By Day ... Party Together By Night

    Work hard, play hard ... that's the way it was for LeBron James and Chris Paul Sunday -- who hit the gym together during the day and the CLUB together at night. LeBron and CP3 spent their Sunday training at the gym at UCLA with Bron's Cleveland Cavs teammate Tristan Thompson ... and even posted a…

  • GIF: Brock Lesnar Curb Stomped by Seth Rollins at WWE Night of Champions 2014

    At some point or another it was decided that the finish to the Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena rematch at Night of Champions on Sept. 21, 2014, in Nashville, Tennessee would feature a run-in from Seth Rollins. It was also decided that Lesnar, vulnerable thanks to Cena spamming finishers for the last 10…

    SB Nation
  • Gerald Wallace's contract is like a lottery ticket for the Boston Celtics

    Gerald Wallace was stoic last season. Wallace's three-year, $30.3 million contract was criticized by Celtics fans in a Bill Simmons piece published on Grantland. Eric in Springfield, Massachusetts: "Instead of a jersey number, could the Celtics convince Wallace to wear all the first-rounders we got…

    SB Nation
  • UPDATE 1-Tennis-Williams quits Wuhan event after illness

    * Top seed Williams quits in first set against Cornet * Second seed Halep loses in three sets to Muguruza (Updates after Williams retirement) Sept 23 (Reuters) - World number one Serena Williams withdrew from the Wuhan Open

  • Darnell Dockett has tickets for Cardinals fan getting in a brawl with 49ers fans

    Sunday was kind of a wild day at the 49ers-Cardinals game. Aside from just the loss, 49ers and Cardinals fans got into a nasty brawl in the stands. It's a really nasty fight, with quite a bit of blood on the ground as the fight wrapped up. It seemed

    SB Nation
  • Undertaker rumors of poor health seemingly debunked by his wife, Michelle McCool

    Over the weekend, a weird rumor started making the rounds that Undertaker is in poor health or bad shape or whatever other term you want to use to signify someone is not doing well physically. The source for this was, apparently, Limp Bizkit lead singer Fred Durst, who reportedly dedicated a song…

    SB Nation
  • Play

    Dad Catches Derek Jeter's Foul Ball at Yankee Game

    Little girl throws one-of-a-kind foul back on the field, see what happens next. during break hoping this ends well. A moment turning to horror to a father and mother and their daughter, all Derek Jeter fans. Reporter: Even if you're not a yankees fan

    ABC News Videos
  • The Big Ten's strengths, weaknesses and Michigan

    We're back with another week of Big Ten football and this time there are a few nice things to say! As a conference, the Big Ten had its best Saturday of the season three days ago. Trust me when I tell you this next statistic is not a typo, but every

    SB Nation
  • Gareth Bale kicks the ball at Luka Modric's face

    You know what hurts more than seeing Gareth Bale and Luka Modric scoring amazing goals and winning trophies like we always hoped they would do for Tottenham Hotspur? Watching them turn on each other. GARETH BALE KICKED THE BALL AT LUKA MODRIC'S

    SB Nation
  • Blake Griffin wasn't surprised by Donald Sterling's racist rant

    When Donald Sterling's racism scandal grabbed national attention during the first round of the NBA playoffs last spring, it put the coaches and players of the Los Angeles Clippers in an awkward position. With Sterling disgraced and not yet banned from the league, the team itself was forced to…

    Ball Don't Lie
  • Asian Games 'Medal Ceremony Girls' join beauty battle

    North Korea has its "Army of Beauties", but the rival South is fighting back at the Asian Games with its "Medal Ceremony Girls". Many South Koreans were heartbroken when the rival North refused to send its renowned cheerleaders to the pan-Asian sporting event in Incheon, in a political wrangle. The…