One of the most prominent players in tennis history, Rafael Nadal, has suffered a recent slump in his form. That doesn’t make him less dangerous but we are all aware of what he accomplished when he was at his best. The Nadal who could outplay and outlast anyone on the ATP Tour seems to be gone this year. Nadal began his career as an inspired teenager taking down Roger Federer and charged on without turning back. But just like any legend’s career even Nadal’s has hit a rough patch. In 2015, Nadal’s prominence on tour began to dwindle. Here are a few ways Nadal can get his best tennis back.
1. Serves: The Spaniard was broken many times this year, something which he is not quite used to against lowly ranked players. He needs to make sure his serves hit top speeds and right corners and hold his serves better than he has done through out 2015. This is his only “grand-slam less year” in 10 years now. Holding on to service games is what Roger is doing, at the age of 34, which is letting the Swiss-maestro maintain his no.2 position. Hardworking Nadal shouldn’t take much time to return to his blistering form and strike a grand-slam or two next season. If he makes his serve more accurate and starts hitting it with heavier spin, he’ll get more free points on his serve, or set up his big forehand for quick winners off of soft returns. Again, it’s all about keeping points short and saving his body. There’s a reason why big servers often have longer careers, just look at Ivo Karlovic and Roger Federer.
2. Net-Approaches: The Spaniard is one of the most under-rated volley players in tennis history. Nadal was always really good at net approaches and he has to keep it up. Rafa’s volleys have not been that significant this year. Nadal struggled in Wimbledon and US Open because of his net approaches. To win his first US Open, Nadal had to learn how to approach the net intelligently. His incredible focus has to be restored to get him back to what he was. Rafael was easily one of the best volley players in tennis history, he can be again.
3. Better Tactical Play: The 14-time grand-slam champion needs to change the way he plays. As a viewer I feel the reduced aggression in his game could be due to lack of confidence. Nadal’s game has been always been more defensive than aggressive, but this year it has been passive. He is the last person you would wish to face when he is in his form, that is, the aggressive nature of Nadal to counter attack a forehand. Roger’s sweet forehand and Djokovic’s powerful forehand have already been grounded by Rafa. The left hander’s incredibly powerful back hand has to be re-scripted to make it more effective. The number of errors made by the former world no.1 must decrease for him to come out on top.
4. Change Of Coach: Rafael Nadal’s main problem now, as he admitted, is mental strength. Toni Nadal is a wonderful coach and his 25 years of work with Nadal have been incredibly good but at the very least, he should add another voice to his coaching staff. There has to be someone who can help Nadal work with his mental stability. This could be controversial but Nadal needs a change in tactics if he wants to return to his best game. As Nadal’s age is in late 20’s he needs a professional coach to keep his mental strength intact as his physical prowess continues to slide.
5. Increased Confidence: The kind of profile that the Spaniard possesses is surely going to show us that he is not going down without a fight to get back to the highs of his career. He needs to build in some confidence and that would be by winning ATP masters. Nadal should start taking every tournament seriously to build his confidence.
Long matches with long grueling rallies are probably a big reason why Rafa has had so many physical struggles over the years. He won’t be able to keep it up for much longer. We saw that this year. Even with changes and improvements, he may never dominate the clay the way he used to. If he wants to stay near the top of the game, he needs to focus on fast courts. True, hard courts are the worst for his body because the impact his higher. But matches are also considerably shorter. Grass even more so. Nadal needs to be protecting his body as much as possible, and while hard courts are harder on the body, a short match on hard courts is better than a long match on clay.
Critiquing the play of the former world no.1 is easy for us viewers, but the difference between the former Nadal and the present Nadal is unmistakable. His flawless tennis and grueling rallies against top seeds were missing this year. These are the five changes that I think will help Nadal the most. If you have other suggestions, don’t be shy! Fill up the comment section. I look forward to a lively debate.