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Brain Game: Rafa Breaks Down Stan's Backhand

Mutua Madrid Open

Nadal© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal's heavy topspin forehand dominated Stanislas Wawrinka's backhand.

Craig O'Shannessy breaks down the Mutua Madrid Open final.

Rafael Nadal captured his third Mutua Madrid Open title the old fashioned way – by breaking down his opponent’s backhand.

Nadal defeated Stanislas Wawrinka 6-2 6-4 in the final by primarily taking his heavy forehand high with spin to his opponent’s one-handed backhand with devastating results.

Wawrinka committed 22 backhand errors (15 groundstroke, seven return) for the match compared to Nadal’s five (four groundstroke , one return), which created a domino effect of control all over the court.

Wawrinka said after the match that the Ad court strategy with Nadal’s forehand to his backhand was the difference in the final outcome. "[Nadal’s] a lefty and puts so much topspin on his forehand, so I have to [play my] backhand always high," Wawrinka said. "So I need to have the perfect timing to play a strong shot. You could see today [that] if I don't have the legs to get there, I have no chance to come back in the point.”

It was Nadal’s forehand that repeatedly pushed his opponent deep behind the baseline that gets the majority of credit for Wawrinka’s backhand errors.

Nadal forcing a Wawrinka backhand error:

Forcing Shot Wawrinka Backhand Errors
Nadal's Forehand 10
Nadal's Backhand 3
Nadal's Volley 2

Wawrinka got off to a rough start, winning only six points in the opening three games, but the early hole was not caused by his backhand as he made his first 23 of the match without a mistake. But six errors out of his next 13 backhands saw the first set slide away quickly, giving Nadal confidence controlling his favorite Ad court pattern. 

Overall, Wawrinka made more than four times the backhand errors than Nadal (22 to five) and hit an almost identical number of forehand and backhand groundstrokes for the match. That plays right into his opponent’s hands.

Total groundstrokes:

Total Groundstrokes Nadal Wawrinka
Total Forehands 86 (60%) 74 (50%)
Total Backhands 55 (40%) 73 (50%)

Nadal’s primary pattern is to control the Ad court with his forehand high to his opponent’s backhand, and things can get one-sided when the opponent has a one-handed backhand and the ball is jumping in sunny, warm conditions like it was in Madrid for the final.

Factor in that it was also Wawrinka’s ninth match in 10 days after defeating David Ferrer in the final of the Portugal Open last week and the leg strength needed to beat Nadal in a Masters final on home soil was found wanting. 

Nadal’s backhand stood tall under pressure with two groundstroke winners and only four groundstroke errors for the final. Nadal was also better than Wawrinka at turning backhands into forehands in the opposite court to protect the weaker wing. 

All Forehands Nadal Wawrinka
Normal Court Forehands 47 (Ad court) 43 (Deuce court)
Run Around Forehands (opposite court) 39 (Deuce court) 31 (Ad court)

Nadal hit nine forehand winners for the match with five coming standing in the Ad court and four in the deuce court. Wawrinka hit six forehand winners for the match with three each coming standing in the deuce and Ad court.

Nadal’s control of the baseline with his forehand made for a higher percentage of plays coming forward, where he was 6/6 (100%) approaching for the match. Wawrinka had more urgency to come forward but only won 40% (4/10) of his net points. 

Both players were desperately looking for a forehand as their first shot after the serve but it was once again Nadal who was able to capitalise most with this critical match statistic. 

Nadal hit a serve and then a forehand 89% (26/29) of the time while Wawrinka did it 88% (31/35), but Nadal won 80% of these points while Wawrinka could only manage winning 54%. Wawrinka had to at least break even with Nadal in this important statistic if he had any hopes of victory. This helped Nadal win 73% of his second serve points while Wawrinka could only manage 48%. 

On the crucial break points, Nadal won 3/11 (27%) while Wawrinka was never able to extend Nadal to see a single break point opportunity. 

It was always going to be a big ask for Wawrinka to beat Nadal in an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final, but Wawrinka has now won 12 of his past 14 matches and is emerging as a dark horse to do a lot more damage in Rome and Paris in the coming weeks.

Craig O'Shannessy uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game.

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Related Topics:

Brain Game, Rafael Nadal

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