Rafael Nadal’s has surprisingly never won the Miami Open. The tournament’s grippy surface and hot conditions suit his game nicely. His tennis game has some of the best attributes the sport has ever seen. His forehand, movement and competitive spirt are unrivaled historically.
BREAKING DOWN RAFAEL NADAL’S TENNIS GAME
Opponents will go to great length to avoid his forehand side but his supreme movement and recognition skills make countering his biggest weapon very challenging. His massive spin allow him to play aggressive and safe shots in the high percentage areas of the court. It’s an impossible task trying to use slice or under spin against him as he gobbles up this shot with outright winners.
Big ball strikers with power games will try to drive their shots up the line to take away Nadal’s reaction time. This tactic exposed by Robin Söderling a decade ago in the French Open has been replicated by opponents but it’s very difficult to execute over 3 set matches and almost impossible in best of 5 formats.
As the all time greatest defensive player ever Nadal has made adjustments with serve technique and court positioning to shorten points to extend his career and make his game more efficient. He struggles at times returning balls inside the baseline and prefers the deep returning position that work so well for his playing style especially on 2nd serves.
His serve is weighty and smart. He blends speed, power, spin and disguise but uses it mostly to set up his ferocious forehand. His backhand is versatile and can hit lasers in either direction and is ready for players who try to exploit this wing trying to avoid his forehand. His slice backhand is underrated and very crafty. He can skim it low, hit it with side spin and uses a slice float return on baseliners to allow him time to recover and rob opponents of power on their second shot. He uses this shot particularly well on clay and slow hard courts like the Miami Open and can bounce it consistently within inches of the baseline.
His volley technique and execution are under appreciated. Both forehand and backhand volleys have rock solid technique. He has exquisite feel on low bouncing balls with deft touch while redirecting shots into the open court and behind opponents on passing shots.
His lob game is very dangerous especially off the backhand side when opponents hit aggressive approaches shots.
His only real flaw at this point of his career is durability. He thrives off long practice sessions and lots of match play but needs to balance rest to be fit for the Grand Slam events and the Spring clay court season.
MIAMI OPEN 2017 FINAL: NADAL VS FEDERER
One difference in Nadal’s hard court court game in the last few years is decreased movement and range. In the highlight reel below from last year’s Miami Open Final we see Federer open up the court and move Nadal side to side really burning his legs into submission. The younger version of Nadal had seemingly unlimited range and grew strong the more he ran and never game up on any shots. In the second point highlight Federer hits a volley behind Nadal who stabs at it awkwardly.
2017 Miami Open Results: Lost to Federer 3-6, 4-6 in the Men’s Final.
Scouting Report Written by Brian Lutz
Bonus Footage: Here is my one on one interview with Rafael Nadal from last years 2017 Miami Open Players Party.