Sunday, August 03, 2008

Tennis - What Can a Right-Hander Learn from Nadal?

Chatting with my opponent during a match, we remarked that (as right-handers) we couldn't take a whole lot from Nadal's serving or positioning strategy. And as people with normal shoulders, we couldn't figure out how he does that heavy topspin forehand motion.

But, even so, there are some things that a right-hander can take away from the Nadal game.

Nadal's opponents usually know his game plan in advance. He has his favorite shots, and attributes like fitness and concentration, that he just figures are better than the opponent's. So it doesn't matter if the other guy is ready for what's coming, Rafa will stick to the plan knowing that he has an excellent chance if the match is played on his terms. You can do the same, whether your strength is the volley, consistency, angles, speed, and so on.

Clay-court positioning is way back behind the baseline. Why is this so effective? Just try hitting some balls from that position, next time you're picking up near the fence after a drill. You can fire line drives as hard as you like, with little worry that they'll go out. So next time your opponent hits something deep and/or high, retreat a few steps, bang an offensive shot someplace they don't expect, then move in and take control of the baseline again.

Ever notice how every left-hander has a heavy spin serve in the ad court that goes to your backhand? That's perfect for the left-hander because (a) the backhand tends to be the weak side, and (b) the ad court is where you serve most game-winning or game-saving points. A right-hander would be serving those sliders and kickers in the deuce court. Well, why not work on that serve anyway? Even though it's directed to most opponents' forehands, it can still push them way off the court and set you up for an easy putaway on the next shot.

Rafa has more options than most players when he runs around his backhand. In addition to the inside-out forehand (most players' favorite choice from that position), he'll often hit a heavy topspin forehand down the line, with plenty of margin for error. Not intended to be an outright winner, just to surprise the opponent, pull them out of their normal position, and prompt a weak response that makes the next shot much easier to put away. I find this shot is so rare for right-handers, they usually pull it into the alley when they attempt it. Practice this shot -- down-the-line forehands from your backhand corner -- with a little extra height and well inside the sideline. You'll mess up opponents who expect every forehand from that spot to be inside-out, and you're pretty much guaranteed that your next shot will be a forehand too.

While you may not be a natural right-hander who plays tennis left-handed, like Nadal, you can take advantage of your off-arm even if you don't have a powerful two-handed backhand. When cradling the racquet in the ready position between points, support it entirely by the left hand on the throat. The racquet is only a few ounces, and you only need a few seconds before the next point starts, but by the third set of a long match, the energy savings can really add up to keep your racquet arm fresh.

Rafa's Wimbledon win demonstrated some new shots, particularly the one-handed slice backhand. Take note! Even a player renowned for his speed is willing to slow down the pace when he's out of position or the ball is too low and hard to hit an aggressive shot. You can stay in lots of points with a deep slice, a defensive looper, or an off-speed ball. Just stay ready to go back on offense once this tactic disrupts your opponent's rhythm or wears out their patience.

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