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RICOH ATP MatchFacts: Nadal Beefs Up Serve

Rafael Nadal

Nadal© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal has shown noticeable improvements in first serve points won and service games held.

At the beginning of the season, Rafael Nadal stated he was going to continue bringing the intensity that’s guided him to 10 Grand Slam titles, declaring, “I will play like this until my mind and my physical performance say, 'finish'.

“If you are working very hard physically, but your mental game is not there, you don't feel competitive, you won't feel hungry to keep winning or to keep fighting every ball. If you're not ready to compete and to combine both things, [it] will be very difficult to be competitive in all the tournaments.”

Though he did not win a title in the first quarter of the year, Nadal certainly was ‘competitive’, reaching the semi-finals or better at every event he entered, including a runner-up finish to Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open. The RICOH ATP MatchFacts suggest that Nadal has stepped up on serve, something he’ll be looking to carry into the European clay-court season.

“Nadal's tennis has always been inspiring. But even more inspiring is the way he continually engages his head and heart to make himself better,” asserts acclaimed tennis columnist Joel Drucker. “There is a persistence to him, a sense that he will leave no stone unturned - not just in order to win but because in his mind this is what champions do most of all: They attempt, again and again and again.”

In the four tournaments the Spaniard played through March this year, all hard courts, Nadal won 88 per cent of his service games, a 6 per cent increase over his hard-court success in 2011. The 25 year old also went up from 63 per cent break points saved to 71 per cent, putting him in fourth place on the surface thus far in 2012.

“The slight increase in Nadal's service holds speaks to his unwavering desire to improve,” says Drucker. “That became particularly important for him in 2011 when he was displaced from No. 1  by Novak Djokovic. And Djokovic's quality service return is a major tipping shot in the Djokovic-Nadal rivalry. So Rafa is looking to generate more traction with his serve.”

In addition, Nadal’s hard-court first serve percentage rose five per cent, from 65 to 70. The 70 per cent mark equals his number on clay last year, but Drucker doesn't believe the World No. 2 will look to increase the statistic at the same rate this year on the red dirt.

“Nadal is so effective on clay he could probably spin in 90 percent of his first serves and generate the same match results. It just takes some massive returning to displace him from a favourable position on clay,” Drucker says.

“But I sense he's restless, that he doesn't want to merely build a game that will yield him clay results but instead one that will put him in good stead for Wimbledon, the Olympics (where he's the holder) and the US Open. In a strange way, a lower first serve percentage on clay is a sign of Nadal investing in his long-term game.”

Nadal’s most successful season-to-date on clay came in 2010. That year, he won 91 per cent of his service games, and saved 77 per cent of break points faced to go undefeated on the surface with a 22-0 record, winning all three ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events and his fifth Roland Garros crown.

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