Rafael Nadal has become known as a creature of habit. He loves his rituals. And when things stay the same. He has become familiar with Roland Garros, where he’s won a record 11 French Open championships.
But the King of Clay is more open to change than fans realize.
Today, Nadal admitted he needed to change the way he practices.
“I had to change the way I approached my tennis career,” said Nadal. Rafa explained that a foot injury in 2005 ended up as a turning point for him in his mind for how he attacked the sport. After that, he decided he needed to pull back on his hours on the practice court.
Now the Spaniard thinks about efficiency. He can’t overpower his opponents by over-preparing with hours on the court, so he must maximize his time on court while keeping in mind the toll on his body. Now at the age of 32, Nadal gives intense thought to every moment he spends between the white lines.
“What I do is go on court with a goal to improve one thing,” Nadal said. That means he doesn’t spend a second on the practice court willy-nilly. Every single time he practices, he has a goal in mind. It might be overheads–an area of the game where he excels. It might be second serves, where Nadal bests other players on the way to championships.
Whatever he’s working on, Nadal approaches the practice court with a vision and a goal.
That “smart-prep” was evident in his first-round match against Yannick Hanfmann, where the clay-court GOAT won 6-2 6-1 6-3 against the over-matched German. Nadal won 78% of his first serve points, 80% of his second serve points, and had his way on court Philippe Chatrier.
Next Nadal will face another German, Yannick Maden, a bright young player intent on a strategy of disruption–even if that’s a naive approach.
“Hopefully my game can annoy him some,” Maden said after an impressive straight-set win over Belgian qualifier Kimmer Coppejans.
In a post-match press conference, Maden was concerned about Nadal’s heavy topspin forehand, but perhaps he should be more worried about the Spaniard’s efficiency. Rafael Nadal is tops at finishing points early and often.
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