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The Four Keys To Rafa's Dominating Forehand at Roland Garros

  • Posted: Jun 10, 2018

The Four Keys To Rafa’s Dominating Forehand at Roland Garros

Spaniard won his 11th Roland Garros title and 17th Grand Slam crown


Finish to A.

Rafael Nadal pounded 126 forehand groundstroke winners from around the baseline over the past two weeks in Paris to win an unprecedented 11th Roland Garros title on Sunday. No piece of real estate mattered more to him than Position A.

Nadal defeated Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in Sunday’s final, hitting 14 forehand winners from the back of the court, with nine (64 per cent) of them powering through his favourite forehand finishing location of A.

Tennis is a very much a C to C sport when rallying. Typically, two right-handed players trade blows through the Ad court at each other’s backhands, but don’t rally wide to D because there is too much risk with the singles sideline in play.

For Nadal, C is the perfect place to set up the point. Position A is where he drops the hammer.

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A study of Nadal’s forehand winners from seven matches at Roland Garros this year reveals the key patterns of play that formed the foundation of the Spaniard’s run to the title – and undoubtedly heavily contributed to his preceding 10 titles in Paris.

Nadal’s forehand has never been studied in such detail, with the following four elements revealing the inner workings of the biggest baseline weapon in the modern game.

1. Winners Go To A
Being left-handed, we naturally fixate on Nadal dominating through the Ad court to C and D against right-handed opponent’s backhands. That’s just where he sets the point up. Those are the body blows.

Nadal played five right-handed and two left-handed opponents at Roland Garros the past two weeks, and his game plan remained basically the same against them all: run around his own backhand in the Deuce court and finish out wide to A.

Location of Nadal’s Forehand Winners
Position A = 66% (83)

Position B = 2% (2)

Position C = 1% (1)

Position D = 32% (40)

2. Forehand Winners Are Struck From B & D
Nadal loves to run around his backhand and hit forehand winners standing in B, as well as go big from out wide in the Ad court from D.

Nadal Forehand Winners – Position Hit From
Position A = 20% (25)

Position B = 33% (41)

Position C = 14% (18)

Position D = 33% (42)

When Nadal was standing in B hitting a forehand winner, 68 per cent (27/40) were run-around forehand winners hit inside-out to Position A. This was a huge part of his run to his 11th Paris title. Just 32 per cent (13/40) were hit inside-in from B down the line to D. The modern forehand is all about inside-out.

When Nadal was standing in D, he hit a remarkable 80 per cent (33/41) of his forehand winners right down the line to Position A. Opponents typically want to cover the crosscourt, sitting on Nadal’s heavy, lefty forehand to their backhand. That’s exactly the finishing trap that the Spaniard looks to exploit.

3. Forehand Winners Happen More When Serving
We have never really made the connection between hitting forehands and hitting serves, but the two lived in perfect harmony for Nadal at Roland Garros. Right at two out of three of his forehand winners came when he was serving.

Forehand Winners
When Serving = 65% (82)

When Receiving = 35% (44)

4. The Run-Around Forehand Dominates
With Nadal being left-handed, the natural place for him to make contact with forehands is standing in the Ad court. Not so for forehand winners. Nadal’s run-around forehands standing in the Deuce court produced more winners at Roland Garros than his forehands from the Ad court.

Winners: Location Contact Hit From
Deuce Court = 52% (66) – Run Around forehands.

Ad Court = 48% (60) – Normal forehands.

Overall, Nadal hit 126 groundstroke forehand winners and committed 166 errors. That means if the last shot of the rally was a forehand groundstroke, 43 per cent of the of the time it was a winner, and 57 per cent of the time it was an error.

On the surface that does not seem impressive, but take into account that errors made up 66 per cent of total points at Roland Garros this year, and those 43 per cent of errors are viewed in an upgraded light.

Forehands to A took another major title in Paris on Sunday.

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Nadal 'not crazy' about catching Federer's Grand Slam tally

  • Posted: Jun 10, 2018
French Open 2018
Venue: Roland Garros, Paris Dates: 27 May-10 June
Coverage: Daily live radio and text commentaries on BBC Radio 5 live, the BBC Sport website and app.

Rafael Nadal would love to surpass Roger Federer’s men’s record of 20 Grand Slam titles but says he is not “crazy” about catching his great rival.

World number one Nadal won his 17th major by lifting his 11th French Open title on Sunday, beating seventh seed Dominic Thiem 6-4 6-3 6-2.

“Of course I have ambition. But I can’t always be thinking of more,” he said.

Nadal, 32, is second behind Federer in the list of all-time Grand Slam titles, three clear of Pete Sampras in third.

  • Report: Nadal beats Dominic Thiem to win 11th title
  • Why does Nadal reign as ‘King of Clay’?
  • Quiz: How many multiple French Open champions can you name in two minutes?

Veteran pair Nadal and Federer have won the past six Grand Slams as their younger rivals struggle to dislodge them at the pinnacle of the game.

Federer, 36, skipped the clay-court season for the second successive year, but will return for the grass-court season which culminates at Wimbledon next month.

“You can’t be frustrated if somebody has more money than you, if somebody has a bigger house than you, if somebody has more Grand Slams than you,” said Nadal, who will be top seed at Wimbledon.

“I’ve never been crazy about this kind of stuff. You can’t live with that feeling. You have to do your way.

“I’d love to have 20 like Roger in the future or more, but it is not something in my mind. I know I’ve had an amazing career so I want to keep fighting for these things.”

‘Tough times make this win special’

In a rare show of emotion, Nadal looked close to tears as he collected the Coupe des Mousquetaires again after beating Austrian Thiem.

He said it was because he had started the clay-court season with “some doubts” before going on to win a record-extending 11th title at Roland Garros.

Nadal did not play for more than two months after the Australian Open in January – where he withdrew from his quarter-final against Marin Cilic because of a hip injury.

He pulled out of planned appearances in Acapulco, Indian Wells and Miami before returning at the start of April for Spain’s Davis Cup tie against Germany.

It was his only appearance before winning the Masters title in Monte Carlo in April, backing that up with victory at the Barcelona Open and another Masters title in Rome.

“I had a lot of months with injury problems, so coming back to win is very special,” he said.

“I came back from five months without playing a full tournament.

“So coming back and having the chance to win in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome, and now especially here, it’s very emotional for me.

“I arrived so-so, with some doubts about this clay-court season.”

Thiem optimistic of final return

Thiem says he is “confident” his first appearance in a Grand Slam final will not be his last.

The 24-year-old finally reached the Roland Garros showpiece after losing in the semi-finals in 2016 and 2017.

“That’s my biggest goal, to get into the next one and then to do it better than today,” he said.

“Of course it’s going to be easier, a little bit, because it’s not going to be the first time anymore.”

Thiem is the only player to have beaten Nadal on clay in the past two years – winning in best-of-three set matches in Rome and Madrid.

However, he fell to a third successive straight-set defeat by the Spaniard at the French Open.

Thiem lost to Nadal in the second round on his Roland Garros debut in 2014, then again in last year’s semi-finals.

“I think it was the first time against him here in Roland Garros where it was a fight,” said Thiem, who told Nadal he remembered being 11 years old and watching the Spaniard win his first title in 2005.

“Honestly, I never expected that one day I would play the finals here so I am still really happy.

“Winning 11 times is definitely one of the best things somebody ever achieved in sport.”

How social media reacted to Nadal’s victory

American 12-time Grand Slam singles champion Billie Jean King: Incredible! Congratulations, Rafael Nadal #champion

German six-time Grand Slam winner Boris Becker: The legend continues… Rafael Nadal @rolandgarros #11

American seven-time French Open winner Chris Evert: Two warriors won at Roland Garros this year… fighters, grinders, with heart and passion…congratulations Simona Halep and Rafael Nadal

American former player Pam Shriver: Bingo legs eleven Rafael Nadal. Chasing RF!

Ex-Real Madrid and Portugal footballer Luis Figo: Congratulations!! Enhorabuena 11x winner Roland Garros. Amazing!!! One of the best sportsman of all times.

Spanish golfer and 2017 Masters champion Sergio Garcia: 11 @rolandgarros for Rafael Nadal!!! Amazing!! What a machine!! Enorme Rafa!!

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Nottingham Open: Katie Swan qualifies for WTA main draw for first time

  • Posted: Jun 10, 2018

British teenager Katie Swan qualified for a WTA Tour event for the first time with victory in qualifying at the Nottingham Open.

Swan was given wildcards for the Aegon Classic in Birmingham in 2015 and Wimbledon 2016 but had not reached a Tour-level event in her own right.

The 19-year-old beat Spaniard Paula Badosa Gibert 2-6 6-2 6-1.

Swan is ranked 237 in the world and in 2016 became the youngest player to play for Britain in the Fed Cup, aged 16.

“It feels so good,” Swan said.

“It’s the first time I’ve got in on my own ranking, so it feels really good. All the hard work I’ve been doing this year is finally paying off.”

Swan – who joins compatriots Johanna Konta, Heather Watson, Katie Boulter, and Gabriella Taylor in the main draw – will play Germany’s Mona Barthel in the first round.

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Nadal beats Thiem to win 11th French Open title

  • Posted: Jun 10, 2018
French Open 2018
Venue: Roland Garros, Paris Dates: 27 May-10 June
Coverage: Daily live radio and text commentaries on BBC Radio 5 live, the BBC Sport website and app.

World number one Rafael Nadal won an 11th French Open title by beating Austria’s Dominic Thiem in straight sets.

Nadal, 32, won 6-4 6-3 6-2 to earn his 17th Grand Slam, three adrift of Roger Federer’s all-time men’s record.

The Spaniard edged an intense opening set, tightening his grip in the second.

And he increased the tempo further, consigning 24-year-old Thiem to defeat in his first major final when the Austrian sent a return long.

  • Re-live Nadal’s victory over Thiem
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The victory means the past six Grand Slam titles have been won by either Nadal or Federer with the next generation of players finding it hard to break the veterans’ stranglehold on the game.

Nadal is the only second player in history to win the same Grand Slam on 11 occasions after Margaret Court, who won 11 Australian Open titles between 1960 and 1973.

However, it was not all smooth for Nadal, who missed four match points on his own serve before clinching victory when Thiem went long on the fifth.

Nadal dropped his racquet at the baseline in celebration before turning to his box and raising both hands skywards.

Favourite Nadal at his relentless and destructive best

The Spaniard had been the hot favourite to win the second Slam of the year, after warming up with three clay-court titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome.

The Majorcan has an air of invincibility at Roland Garros, losing only twice in 87 matches since making his debut in 2005, and again he delivered on his favourite stage.

He had breezed through his opening four matches without dropping a set – extending his own personal best to 37 consecutive sets here – though falling short of Bjorn Borg’s all-time record of 41 by losing the opener of his quarter-final against Diego Schwartzman.

That was about as disheartening as it got for the world number one.

Against seventh seed Thiem he was at his destructive best, using his athleticism and mental resilience to wear the Austrian down with his relentless shot-making.

Thiem, playing in his first Grand Slam final, simply had few answers to Nadal’s brilliance.

Nadal stamps authority from the start

Nadal had made slow starts to his service games in his semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro and Schwartzman, but imposed himself straight away against Thiem by holding to love in the opening game and backing it up with a break in the next.

Thiem did break back in the third game, but had to fend off more chances for Nadal on his own serve – particularly in a 13-minute sixth game – before the Spaniard struck in the final game of the set.

Nadal also stamped his authority early in the second set, breaking again at the first opportunity, as Thiem started to become frustrated.

The Austrian had a chance to break back for 4-3, but his opponent saw it off with a backhand down the line and closed out the set as the inevitable loomed.

Only one player had ever beaten Nadal from two sets down at a Grand Slam – Italian Fabio Fognini at the 2015 US Open.

Thiem never looked like becoming the second.

Nadal refused to ease off at the start of the third, missing five break points in two long service games for the Austrian, who eventually buckled with a wide forehand to trail 2-1.

Nadal broke again for a 5-2 lead, then served out – after suffering cramp in his left arm and missing those match points – to win in two hours and 42 minutes.

Thiem falls short in quest for first Slam

Thiem has long been heralded as a future Grand Slam champion – with the French Open seemingly his best chance on his favoured surface.

The Austrian had been the only man to have beaten Nadal on clay in the past two years, winning in two sets in the Masters events – the tier below the Grand Slams – in Rome and Madrid.

But this was over best-of-five sets. And this was Roland Garros.

Thiem showed a few nerves as he failed to find his rhythm in the opening two games and, after he briefly started to look like he could turn it into a contest, was eventually overwhelmed by the favourite.

The world number eight started making mistakes on his backhand – usually his most potent weapon – as it disintegrated under heavy pressure.

It left him standing with his hands on hips after losing energy-sapping points, wondering what more he had to do to break down Nadal.

“What you have done – to win this tournament 11 times – is one of the greatest things in sport,” Thiem told Nadal on court afterwards.

“I hope I soon get another chance here – maybe against you. But it has still been a great two weeks for me here.”

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Rafa Rolls To 'La Undécima' At Roland Garros

  • Posted: Jun 10, 2018

Rafa Rolls To ‘La Undécima’ At Roland Garros

Spaniard lifts 11th crown on the terre battue

With everything to play for, Rafael Nadal saved arguably his best performance for last. The World No. 1 exhibited yet another ruthless display of aggression to emerge with the Roland Garros title on Sunday.

Nadal defeated Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in two hours and 42 minutes to seize the Coupe des Mousquetaires for an unprecedented 11th time. The Spaniard saves his top level for championship occasions like these, and Sunday’s affair on Court Philippe Chatrier was no exception.

It is unfathomable. Eleven titles at a single Grand Slam tournament. ‘La Undécima’ lifts Nadal to truly historic territory. No other man or woman has achieved the feat in the Open Era.

At the age of 32, Nadal continues to strengthen his legacy on his most dominant surface. Less than two months after lifting an 11th trophy at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters and following that up with another ‘Undécima’ at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, the Spaniard completed the set with his victory on Sunday at Roland Garros. Moreover, Nadal remains atop the ATP Rankings for a 177th week.

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With the victory, the Manacor native adds a 17th Grand Slam crown, which draws him to within three of Roger Federer’s all-time record of 20. Furthermore, Nadal became just the fourth man in the Open Era to win three or more major titles after turning 30. It is an exclusive club that also includes Federer, Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall. 

Grand Slam Title Leaders

Player Grand Slam Titles
(1) Roger Federer 20
(2) Rafael Nadal 17
(3) Pete Sampras 14
(T-4) Novak Djokovic 12
(T-4) Roy Emerson 12

For the second straight year, Nadal leaves the European clay-court season with a staggering 24-1 mark. His only blemish was a quarter-final defeat to Thiem in his home capital of Madrid. But the Austrian was unable to find the formula to upset his Spanish opponent twice in one campaign.

Thiem made it a tight encounter early in the opener, with the first set lasting 67 minutes. The Austrian broke back after Nadal seized an immediate break for 2-0, but was unable to sustain the same level of energy and pressure on the Spaniard throughout the match. 

Two breaks in the second set proved critical and Nadal would roll from there, claiming the decisive break for 2-1 in the third after escaping a 0/40 deficit in the opening game. He secured his 11th Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy after two hours and 42 minutes, firing a service winner on his fifth match point.


Nadal won 82 per cent of points on his first serve while claiming nearly half of total return points (47 per cent). Thiem did well to strike 34 winners (to Nadal’s 26), but was victimised by 42 unforced errors.

The World No. 1 extended his FedEx ATP Head2Head series lead to 7-3, with all of their meetings coming on clay. One year after relinquishing just seven games in their semi-final encounter, Nadal replicated the feat. He is now 2-1 against Thiem this year, with his other victory coming in the Monte-Carlo quarter-finals.

Most Titles At A Single Tournament (Open Era)

Player Tournament Titles
Rafael Nadal Roland Garros 11
Rafael Nadal Monte-Carlo 11
Rafael Nadal Barcelona 11
Roger Federer Halle 9

Nadal’s 57th clay-court title caps a remarkable turnaround for the Spaniard. Just three months ago, he was forced to withdraw from ATP World Tour stops in Acapulco, Indian Wells and Miami due to a right hip injury. And now, he leaves the clay-court season with the loss of just five sets in 25 matches.

Moreover, Nadal claimed a tour-leading fourth title of 2018 and joins Thiem and Alexander Zverev as 30-match winners this year. Thiem, who remains on top of the match wins leaderboard with a 35-9 win-loss mark, will celebrate a strong fortnight in Paris. The 24-year-old advanced to his first Grand Slam final with impressive victories over Stefanos Tsitsipas, Matteo Berrettini, Kei Nishikori, Alexander Zverev and Marco Cecchinato. 

“I think it was the first time against him here in Roland Garros where it was a fight,” said Thiem. “It was a decent match from my side. He was playing very well, I think, and there is a reason why he won 11 times here. It’s definitely one of the best things somebody ever achieved in sport.

“For sure I’m confident that this was not my last Grand Slam final, and that’s my biggest goal, to get into the next one and then to do it better than today.”


Thiem moves up one spot in the ATP Rankings, rising to No. 7 on Monday. Contesting his 17th tour-level final, he falls to 10-7 in title matches and 2-2 this year. He previously lifted the trophy in Buenos Aires and Lyon two weeks ago. His 10-match win streak entering the final equals the longest of his career.

“Of course it was a special thing for me to play the first slam final,” added Thiem. “But on the other hand, I was pretty calm and I knew that I go into it like it would be any other match. I think this was the right approach because if I let too much happen, my emotions, everything, because it’s the first Grand Slam final, it wouldn’t suit my game very well, and that’s why I went into it like every other match.”

2018 Match Wins Leaders

Player Win-Loss
(1) Dominic Thiem 35-9
(2) Alexander Zverev 34-9
(3) Rafael Nadal 30-2
(4) Juan Martin del Potro 28-7

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The Numbers Don’t Lie: Why Beating Rafa In Paris Is Nigh Impossible

  • Posted: Jun 10, 2018

The Numbers Don’t Lie: Why Beating Rafa In Paris Is Nigh Impossible explores the stats that you need to know ahead of Sunday’s Roland Garros final

There is plenty that has been impressive about Rafael Nadal’s success at Roland Garros — the Spaniard has triumphed 10 times and won 85 of 87 matches, for starters. But the statistics show that the task that first-time Grand Slam finalist Dominic Thiem faces on Sunday is even more daunting than you might think.

Nadal has never lost after the quarter-finals on the Parisian terre battue, holding a 21-0 record in semi-finals and finals en route to his 10 trophies, which is the most captured by any man at a single major.

Most Singles Titles Won At A Single Major (All-Time, Men)

 Player  Grand Slam  Titles  Years
 Rafael Nadal  Roland Garros  10  2005-08, 2010-14, 2017
 Roger Federer  Wimbledon  8  2003-07, 2009, 2012, 2017
 Richard Sears  US Championships  7  1881-87*
 William Renshaw  Wimbledon  7  1881-86, 1889
 William Larned  US Championships  7  1901-02, 1907-11*
 Bill Tilden  US Championships  7  1920-25, 1929
 Pete Sampras  Wimbledon  7  1993-95, 1997-2000

*Challenge round played through 1911 at US Championships
But perhaps it is the left-hander’s performance in championship matches that is most striking. The World No. 1 has won 50 per cent of his sets in Roland Garros finals by a margin of 6-3 or greater. And what is most stunning about that is that his opponents’ average ATP Ranking has been 6.1. If you eliminate Mariano Puerta, who was World No. 37 when he lost to Nadal in the 2005 final, that average would drop to 2.7. So not only is he dominating with the Coupe des Mousquetaires on the line, but he is thumping the world’s best in the process.

Nadal’s Roland Garros Final Sets By Score 

 Score  Number Of Sets
 6-0  1
 6-1  5
 6-2  4
 6-3  8
 6-4  6
 7-5  4
 7-6  2

In those matches, Nadal has won 61.2 per cent (207-131) of games played. And in three of the finals (2008 vs Federer, 2013 vs Ferrer and 2017 vs Wawrinka), all against Top 5 players in the ATP Rankings, the Spaniard did not let slip one set past 6-3. 

Fun Facts: Nadal In Roland Garros Finals

Sets Won/Lost  30-6 (83.3%)
 Games Won/Lost  207-131 (61.2%)
 Average Opponent ATP Ranking  6.1

And the best-of-five-set element adds another hurdle for Thiem. Nadal is 110-2 (98.2%) in clay-court five setters, with his only losses coming in the Round of 16 at Roland Garros in 2009 against Robin Soderling and in the 2015 quarter-finals against Novak Djokovic. And while the World No. 1 has been oustanding in best-of-three matches on the surface, winning 87.5 per cent (364-52) of the time, he has proven to be even greater of a challenge for opponents in the longer format.

Comparing Nadal’s Record In Best-of-Three & Best-of-Five Set Matches

 Rafael Nadal In…  Record
 Best-of-Three Sets  635-151 (80.8%)
 Best-of-Three Sets On Clay  364-52 (87.5%)
 Best-of-Five Sets  262-36 (87.9%)
 Best-of-Five Sets On Clay  110-2 (98.2%)

Nadal has greatly contributed to the dominance of the ‘Big Five’ (Nadal, Federer, Djokovic, Murray & Wawrinka), starting with his first Roland Garros triumph in 2005. Since then, those five players have accounted for 50 of the past 52 Grand Slam titles. During the current stretch, Nadal has won 16 titles, Federer has captured 16, Djokovic has lifted 12 trophies, while Murray and Wawrinka have earned three apiece. The two other players to win a Grand Slam title during the span are Juan Martin del Potro (2009 US Open) and Marin Cilic (2014 US Open).  

All-Time Grand Slam Titles Leaders

 Player  Grand Slam Titles
 1. Roger Federer  20
 2. Rafael Nadal  16
 3. Pete Sampras  14
 T4. Novak Djokovic  12
 T4. Roy Emerson  12

If Thiem is to join that group, he will add his name to elite company in more ways than one. The Austrian can become just the 11th player in the Open Era to defeat the top two seeds at a Grand Slam, with the last being Wawrinka when he won the title two years ago. The Swiss, who also did it at the 2014 Australian Open, is the only player to accomplish the feat in the past 25 years, dating back to 1993 Roland Garros (Sergi Bruguera). Thiem beat Alexander Zverev, the second seed, in the quarter-finals. 

Past Five Players To Beat Top 2 Seeds At A Grand Slam (Open Era)

 Player  Tournament  No. 1 Seed   No. 2 Seed
 Stefan Edberg  1990 Wimbledon  Ivan Lendl (SF)  Boris Becker (F)
 Michael Stich  1991 Wimbledon  Stefan Edberg (SF)  Boris Becker (F)
 Sergi Bruguera  1993 Roland Garros  Pete Sampras (QF)  Jim Courier (F)
 Stan Wawrinka  2014 Australian Open  Rafael Nadal (F)  Novak Djokovic (QF)
 Stan Wawrinka  2015 Roland Garros  Novak Djokovic (F)  Roger Federer (QF)

Thiem is also attempting to make Austrian history, as he can become just the second player — man or woman — from the country to capture a major title. The 24-year-old (18-4) already has the second-most wins at Roland Garros among players from the nation, trailing just 1995 champion Thomas Muster (32-13).

Most Wins By An Austrian Man At Roland Garros (All-Time)

 Player  Record
 1. Thomas Muster  32-13
 2. Dominic Thiem  18-4
 3. Jurgen Melzer  16-13
 4. Herman Von Artens  15-6
 5. Franz-Wilhelm Matejka  9-3

Clay has clearly been Thiem’s best surface, as he has earned 109 of his 206 tour-level victories and eight of his 10 titles on the beaten earth. Thiem also leads the ATP World Tour this season with 26 victories (26-6) on the red dirt, with Nadal right behind (25-1). If the right-hander pulls off the upset Sunday, he will join Ivan Lendl as the only men to claim Grand Slam titles on their 18th major appearances. He can also become the youngest Grand Slam champion since Novak Djokovic (24 years, 252 days) won the 2012 Australian Open.

2018 ATP World Tour Clay-Court Win Leaders

 Player  2018 Clay-Court Record
 1. Dominic Thiem  26-6
 2. Rafael Nadal  25-1
 3. Alexander Zverev  21-4
 4. Diego Schwartzman  17-7
 5. Fabio Fognini  17-9

But, as history dictates, defeating Nadal in a Roland Garros final is one of the most challenging tests in sports.

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Soderling's Secrets To Beating Rafa

  • Posted: Jun 10, 2018

Soderling’s Secrets To Beating Rafa

The Swede returned to Roland Garros for the first time since 2011

It is no surprise that beating Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros is one of the most challenging tasks in tennis. Robin Soderling was the first person to defeat the Spaniard at the clay-court Grand Slam in the Round of 16 nine years ago, after Nadal triumphed in his first four appearances.

Soderling, whose career was cut short by mononucleosis, returned to Roland Garros this year for the first time since 2011, when he last competed on the terre battue. And the 33-year-old, who reached back-to-back finals at the event in 2009 and 2010, revealed his secret to beating Nadal.

“I think to beat him on clay [is challenging]. But to beat him in five sets on clay is even more difficult,” Soderling said. “It has to be a player that plays extremely well. And I think to beat him on clay, I would say the only chance for any player now is to be really aggressive.”

Nadal has lost just one set this fortnight, the first set of his quarter-final against Diego Schwartzman in which the Argentine hit 20 winners. Soderling noticed that the No. 11 seed’s strategy paid dividends.

“I was watching Schwartzman… he played extremely aggressive in the first set,” Soderling said. “It’s an extremely difficult task to do. You have to take a lot of risks. So of course, he [Nadal] is the favourite.”

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And while Soderling is plenty familiar with Nadal’s level — the Spaniard won six of their eight FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings — there is one thing in particular that sticks out to the former No. 4 player in the ATP Rankings.

“I don’t think we’re ever going to see that again. Well, at least not in my lifetime,” Soderling said. “It’s unbelievable. It says so much about him. And what I’m really impressed [with] is that, even though he won it 10 times, he’s here to win 11 times. He looks almost as hungry or even hungrier than when he won it the first time. He didn’t lose any motivation at all. It’s amazing to see.”

While Soderling provided the advice he would have given Schwartzman after his match was suspended overnight due to rain, it applies in general for how the Swede suspects any player, including Thiem in the final, should attempt to play against Nadal.

“Really take some risk and don’t care if he makes a little bit more unforced errors than usual. And also, I think it’s important that he shows himself and that he shows Rafa and everyone that he’s on the court to win,” Soderling said. “Many, many players, even good players, top players… you can almost see that they don’t really believe 100 per cent that they can win. They hope that they will win, but they don’t really believe in it… I think it’s really important that you show everyone that you are on the court to win.”

Soderling, one of just two players (Novak Djokovic, 2015) who has beaten Nadal in a best-of-five-set match on clay (110-2), thinks that Nadal is just as good now as he has ever been. And, barring a setback, he could see more Coupes de Mousquetaires in Nadal’s future.

“I think he actually improved his backhand a little bit. I’m really impressed about the way he plays his backhand now. Even when players put a lot of pace on his backhand, he’s defending really well,” Soderling said. “Maybe he’s not moving as good as he did maybe five, six, 10 years ago. But it’s very small difference. I would say he’s probably as good now as before, and it’s just amazing… if he can stay injury-free, there is nothing that says that he can’t win this two, three, four times more. It’s unbelievable.”

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