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How Nadal's High-Risk, High-Reward Serving Is Paying Off

  • Posted: Jan 26, 2022

Rafael Nadal committed 11 double faults against Denis Shapovalov in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, more than he had in any previous match of his ATP Tour career. But the Spaniard and his team were unperturbed by a stat that they see more as the collateral effect of Rafa’s plan for 2022: to serve faster on his second serve.

The numbers show that the initiative is working. At Roland Garros in 2021, his most recent Grand Slam tournament before this year’s Australian Open, Rafa had an average serve speed of 180 kilometres per hour on his first serve and 150km/h on his second serve. So far, in the year’s first major, where he has won five matches en route to the semi-finals, he has produced an average of 187km/h on his first delivery and 162km/h on his second.

These statistics put him among the greatest servers in our sport. In fact, the 2009 Australian Open champion now has a greater average speed on his second serve over these two weeks than Matteo Berrettini (161km/h), who he will meet in the semis on Friday, Russian Daniil Medvedev (156km/h) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (155km/h).

“[Rafa] is realising how many free points he’s getting. The other day I was talking to him about it before his match against [Adrian] Mannarino. He served 16 aces and six doubles,” said one of Nadal’s coaches, former World No. 1 Carlos Moya. “I told him that I would far prefer that to three aces and no double faults. Because at the end of the day you want the points to be shorter, you want to be aggressive. And the first opportunity to do that is the serve.”

He is taking a risk on both serves in order to win service games more easily, put more pressure on the returner and to save as much energy as possible on court. This is the current philosophy for Nadal, who on Friday will play the 90th match of his career at the Australian Open. It is a philosophy that is delivering results.

Nadal’s Serve In 2022 (including Melbourne Summer Set)

 Aces  52
 Average 1st-Serve Speed  188km/h
 Average 2nd-Serve Speed  164km/h
 1st-Serve Pts Won  79%
 2nd-Serve Pts Won  54%

“I think that yesterday [against Denis Shapovalov] was a clear statement of that intention, and that’s why the serve was an essential part of winning the match,” added Moya, who has been coaching Nadal since 2016. “At 35 years of age you have to increasingly move towards that type of match. Yesterday’s match is a statement of intent that he is willing to take risks, to accept that risk-reward ratio. So far, the benefits have been very high.”

Nadal has not been shy about taking risks in Melbourne, even in high-pressure situations. For example, the first of the four set points he faced in the tie-break against Mannarino in the last sixteen, he saved with a 169km/h second serve that forced the Frenchman into a mistake. Until that point, Rafa had only produced one faster second serve172km/h at the start of the match.

Against Shapovalov, although he served a significant number of double faults, Nadal continued to take risks. In fact, against the 22-year-old Canadian, apart from winning his first 12 service games without facing a break point, he produced his highest average service speed this fortnight in Australia – 190km/h on his first and 165km/h on his second.

Nadal’s Avg Serve Speed At The 2022 Australian Open

 Opponent  Round  1st Serve  2nd Serve
 Marcos Giron  1st  188km/h  165km/h
 Yannick Hanfmann  2nd  188km/h  161km/h
 Karen Khachanov  3rd  185km/h  158km/h
 Adrian Mannarino  4th  187km/h  165km/h
 Denis Shapovalov  QF  190km/h  165km/h

Just five years ago in Melbourne, Nadal’s goal in his first Grand Slam with Moya as one of his coaches was to go from a 140km/h average to 150km/h for his second serve. The progress since then has been remarkable. “Our first goal was to reach 150km/h in 2017, when he was at 135 to 140. But this tournament has shown that his average is now over 160,” said Moya.

Nadal’s improvement with this strategy — having changed his technique three years ago, also in Australia — is a reflection of his desire to keep winning despite his age, and his dream of claiming a 21st Grand Slam title is looking increasingly achievable.

Did You Know?
Nadal has only been broken four times in five matches at this year’s Australian Open (78/82, 95% hold rate).

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Felix On Australian Open Heartbreaker: 'I'm Leaving With My Head Held High'

  • Posted: Jan 26, 2022

Felix Auger-Aliassime is disappointed, but undeterred.

The Canadian star let slip a two-set lead — including a match point in the fourth set — against Daniil Medvedev in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. But in the early hours of Thursday morning in Melbourne, the 21-year-old Felix showed maturity far beyond his years.

“I can go back and think I wish I made different choices, or I wish Daniil didn’t play as good in certain moments. But, yeah, it was a good effort,” Auger-Aliassime said. “At the end of the day, I can’t regret the effort that I put, and the chances I gave myself. I like to look at it in a positive way.

“Of course I would have loved to win. I love to win every time. It sucks to lose in the end, but that’s life. I just need to accept it.”

The loss will sting, as it is the second consecutive year Auger-Aliassime has lost from two sets up at the season’s first major. But there were plenty of positives to take from the performance. It was a top effort from the World No. 9 to put his second-seeded opponent on the brink of defeat.

“I always believed I could produce what I did tonight. I showed it, but definitely it’s the difference between knowing that you have this inside of you and actually showing up and doing it and being close [to] winning,” Auger-Aliassime said. “But of course it’s good, I mean, it’s good for myself. It’s a world of competition, so at the end of the day I think it’s a good message that I send to my fellow players, the people I’m competing with.

“I’m ready to test myself with the best, and I have proved it now time after time.”

What made the difference in the end? As Medvedev noted in his press conference, he faced match point, so even a missed first serve could have changed the outcome, and Felix could have been into his second consecutive major semi-final.

But Medvedev was cool under pressure throughout the final three sets. In the decider, the Russian saved all six break points he faced and converted his one opportunity.

“We both didn’t want to give up. It’s no surprise he’s where he is now. He fights, tries to find solutions. He plays well when he needs to. I think that’s the big difference, we saw the players playing good this week, they play well when it matters,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I think he was just a little bit more clutch than me. A little bit more solid at times. [That] comes with experience as well, I think.”

Auger-Aliassime added that he is keen to put himself in this position again with the belief that in the future he will be able to “cross the line”. But for now, the Canadian plans to reflect on his positive start to the season and use the momentum he has earned in the weeks and months ahead.

“I wish I could go back and change it, but I can’t. So I have accepted it already. It is what it is. I look at it in a very positive way. So far I played two tournaments this year. I showed some good level again today,” Auger-Aliassime. “It’s unfortunate I couldn’t win, but it was a good match. I showed good things. I’m going to leave Australia with my head held high, and I’m going to go into the rest of the season knowing that I can play well, I can play well against the best players in the world.”

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Ram/Salisbury Continue Australian Open Title Pursuit

  • Posted: Jan 26, 2022

Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open as a team for the third consecutive year on Wednesday, when they downed Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini 6-3, 6-2 in Melbourne.

The second seeds triumphed at this tournament two years ago, and they continued their bid to add to their trophy haul with a dominant performance against the Italians, breaking serve four times to advance after 76 minutes.

The American-British tandem captured their second Grand Slam title together at the US Open in September and also won their maiden ATP Masters 1000 crown in Toronto last season.

Ram and Salisbury will next face Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell after the Australians clawed past Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(6) to snap the 11-match winning streak the 10th seeds were on.

“We’ve got to hand it to them, too. They were a classy pair,” Ebden said. Won [the] past two tournaments, in the quarters here. They came back at us hard and made it really tough. It’s a quality doubles [team].

“The key was helping each other out. I think we both lifted a little bit when the other one might have missed one or two. That was key. A couple returns, a couple extra serves, then the crowd really played a part.”

Ebden and Purcell fired 16 aces and won 80 per cent (51/64) of their first-serve points to triumph in two hours and 16 minutes. It is the second time Ebden and Purcell have joined forces, after reaching the quarter-finals at the US Open last year, where they lost to Ram and Salisbury.

Koolhof and Skupski have enjoyed a strong start to the season, capturing tour-level crowns at the Melbourne Summer Set and Adelaide International 2.

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Sinner: 'My Goal Is To Play Many Matches Likes This'

  • Posted: Jan 26, 2022

Jannik Sinner revealed he will take the positives out of his run to the quarter-finals at the Australian Open after his tournament was ended by Stefanos Tsitsipas on Wednesday.

The 20-year-old, who was making his third appearance in Melbourne, dropped just one set en route to his second major quarter-final and believes the experience can help him develop further.

“Of course, it’s a positive tournament,” Sinner said in his post-match press conference. “I think that what I have to improve is the tennis in general. I have to serve better, I have to do everything more, especially when you play against the top guys.

“My goal is to play many matches like this, important matches against the best guys in the world, and then we see and then I grow. I think it was good. I played matches, and I had [a good] experience. Let’s see next year what I do here.”

The Italian won four tour-level titles in a standout 2021 season and was aiming for his second win against the fourth-seeded Greek. However, he was unable to match the intensity of Tsitsipas, praising his level.

“I think he played better than me today,” Sinner added. “He served better. He moved the ball better than me. He was moving better than me. It’s tough to play against him when he plays like that.

“I couldn’t generate the power that I would have wanted. I was trying to move him, but I was maybe a little bit too far back because he played incredible today.”

Sinner will next compete in Rotterdam, an ATP 500 indoor-hard event, at the start of February.

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