Hawk-Eye: Backhand key to titanic battle


Rafael Nadal’s game plan against right-handers is relatively simple: initially he peppers their backhands with slice serves and then continues to beat them into submission with his ferocious forehand.

So as an opponent the one shot that gets put under pressure more than any other is the backhand. And dealing with his viscous topspin, which kicks like a mule off the court, is imperative yet almost impossible, especially with a single-handed backhand.

And that’s why Nadal’s record when facing those players is so good on clay.

But of course Novak Djokovic has a double-handed backhand and this will be the key to victory against Nadal. It gives him much more control on the high balls that Nadal uses to torment his foes, and that’s one of the fundamental reasons he’s able to live with the Spaniard on clay.

In the six matches they’ve contested since the start of the 2011 season Djokovic has beaten him in three finals, including Monte Carlo earlier this year.

When Nadal executes his normal game plan of going cross court with his forehand to Djokovic’s backhand the Serb is comfortable either rallying crosscourt OR more importantly going down the line, and this is the one shot that can make a significant difference as this then puts Nadal’s backhand under real pressure by forcing him to hit his weakest shot on the run.

If Nadal counters by going back down the line then Djokovic can then just continue that same pattern of play, outmanoeuvring Nadal with a high-percentage cross court backhand which again opens up the primary target area.

If Nadal tries to change things up by then going down the line it’s risky to do when he’s under pressure, as then Djokovic has another high percentage play, his cross court forehand, to once more attempt to break down Nadal’s backhand. And If the Spaniard tries to defend cross court but drops the ball short then this allows Djokovic to step up and attack with his best shot, his backhand down the line.

So this pattern of play works really well for Djokovic.

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