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Brain Game: Rafa Goes Back To Basics

Wimbledon, Great Britain

Nadal© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal made just two unforced errors off his backhand.

Brain Game author Craig O’Shannessy breaks down the big matches each day during The Championships.

When the walls come crumbling down, Rafael Nadal goes back to basics better than anyone in the world.

Nadal was pushed to the limit by Lukas Rosol and ultimately triumphed 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4, 6-4 by sticking to the simplest of game plans to win the biggest of points on the grandest stage in the world.

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Nadal was down a set and a break at 3-4 in the second against a rampaging Rosol and the road to victory had not remotely been discovered. To this point in time Rosol owned the match, owned the crowd and was about to own the Spaniard for the second time in three years on Centre Court’s hallowed turf.

Then Nadal found a way - just like he has hundreds of times in his career – by attacking his opponent’s backhand.

Rosol would make three backhand errors in the pivotal eighth game of the second set and Nadal’s lone forehand winner was derived from forcing Rosol to weakly slice a backhand to the middle of the court, where he crushed a run-around forehand through the Deuce court. In Nadal’s two matches so far in the tournament this has been his go-to play to finish points more than anything else.

Nadal again found himself in a desperate situation down set point at 5-6 in the tie-break but once again kept it simple, giving himself the highest chance to execute under immense pressure. Nadal made a first serve to Rosol’s backhand, which was returned cross court as expected to Nadal’s forehand and he crushed a forehand winner straight down the line. At 6-6 Nadal again made a first serve to Rosol’s backhand, which was badly missed and Nadal had successfully navigated the most treacherous part of the match. Rosol would not handle the pressure nearly as well and double faulted to hand Nadal the set and Nadal would not look back as he kept pounding Rosol’s backhand over the last two sets. Rosol would finish the match with six backhand winners, 26 forced errors and 12 unforced errors. 

Players at all levels of the game -  from Washington to Wimbledon, from New Delhi to New York - can relate and replicate what Nadal does so well under pressure. He doesn’t let his opponent use his strength at all when the match is on the line. From having set point to losing the set, Rosol did not hit a single forehand.

Nadal’s two four-set victories over Martin Klizan and Rosol show improvement in several aspects of his game. From the first match to the second he hit more aces (six to 11), made more first serves (72% to 79%), won more first serve points (72% to 75%) and made a huge leap in second serve points won from 41% against Klizan to 62% against Rosol. His forehand is also getting more venomous, with nine more winners (15 to 24) and he is locking down his backhand to only make two unforced errors in four sets against Rosol. It’s the rock of his game that simply refuses to be broken.

Federer Aces
Roger Federer dropped 25 aces and only one double fault to win a rain-delayed second round encounter over Gilles Muller 6-3, 7-5, 6-3. Federer had an astounding 63% of his serves unreturned for the match and never faced a break point against one of the most dangerous grass court players in the draw. Muller served and volleyed 53 times, winning 75% of those points, but was inevitably broken in each set and couldn’t counter against the pin-point serving of the Swiss champion. Only one point out of 161 points lasted at least nine shots in a throw-back of how grass court matches were typically played.

Tsonga Survives
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga moved through to the third round of The Championships with a marathon 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-7(4), 6-3, 14-12 victory over Sam Querrey on Court 2. Tsonga only lost one service game out of 35 and hit 37 aces, including two on second serves, to get through the two-day match, which was suspended on Wednesday due to darkness at 9-9 in the 5th set. The pair combined to play 378 baseline points and only 108 net points, with Tsonga smashing 32 forehand winners as part of an overall total of 97 winners for the match. 

Brain GameCraig O'Shannessy uses extensive tagging, metrics and formulas to uncover the patterns and percentages behind the game. Read more at

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