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Brain Game: Rafa Shelves Favourite Pattern

Wimbledon, Great Britain

Nadal© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal changes his game plan in his Wimbledon opener.

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

It took only one point, indeed one shot, to know that Rafael Nadal was not going to have things all his own way at The Championships today.

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On the opening point Nadal missed his first serve and his opponent, Martin Klizan of the Slovak Republic, reared back and demolished Nadal’s second serve for a forehand winner straight down the line. It’s hard to imagine Klizan hitting the shot any harder.

Nadal quickly fell behind 0-40 but escaped that game and would eventually win 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 after navigating some stormy waters early in the match.

Klizan adopted an extremely aggressive strategy built around his huge forehand, much the same as Lukas Rosol did in 2012 in defeating Nadal on Centre Court. But this time around the World No. 1 successfully adjusted by gradually removing his opponent’s weapon from the equation.

Klizan would hit 16 forehand winners for the match (Nadal 15) with 12 coming in the first two sets and only four in the last two. Nadal again and again simply refused to let him hit it. Klizan closed out set point in the opening set by hitting four big forehands in a row to force a forehand error long from Nadal. It took the Spaniard about a set to figure out that his favorite lefty forehand pattern through the Ad court was going to have to be downgraded to a secondary pattern to get through this match.

A clear example of Nadal’s adjustment was his serve direction in the Deuce court, where Klizan hit 13 forehand returns for the match but had to defend 49 backhand returns, often times stretched out wide in the alley. Nadal mixed much more in the Ad court with Klizan hitting 30 forehand returns and 27 backhand returns as Nadal was able to better match up his hard lefty slice against the dangerous forehand return.

Nadal broke for the first time leading 3-2 in the second set as Klizan started the game with a forehand drop shot that he could have easily hammered like he had done so successfully in the opening set.

The longer the match went on the clearer Nadal became with his game plan. In the third set Nadal forced 10 forehand errors from Klizan, who also donated another nine forehand errors The Nadal tactic of initially starving the weapon at the beginning of the point and then attacking it at the end was working well. Nadal didn’t win a single point in the opening set (0 for 6) that lasted longer than nine shots but won nine of 12 in the last two sets as he rolled to an emphatic opening-round victory.

Federer Takes Charge At Net

FedererRoger Federer had an ideal opening-round match on Court One, enjoying a tactical advantage on the fresh grass courts against Italian clay-court specialist Paolo Lorenzi, whom he defeated 6-1, 6-1, 6-3. Federer continually hugged the baseline and took the ball as early as he could while Lorenzi played very deep, battling the slick grass courts and the Wimbledon heritage of his Swiss opponent. Federer’s serve stats were rock solid, making 70% of first serves, winning 77% and also winning an extremely high 71% of second-serve points. He was able to save all five break points he faced, controlling the court with 40 winners to the Italian’s 12.

Empowered by dominating the back of the court (winning 45 to 26 baseline points), Federer ventured forward with 18 serve and volley points, winning 12, including 100% (7/7) in the third set. Federer won 30 points at the net to Lorenzi’s 12 as the Italian couldn’t quite figure out how to successfully manage the grass.

Wawrinka Dominates with Big Serve

Stan Wawrinka delivered a commanding serving performance in his 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 opening-round victory over Joao Sousa on Court Two. Wawrinka thundered 18 aces, including four on second serves, with 56% (44/78) not returned by his Portuguese opponent. Wawrinka was so strong in this area he did not face a break point in three sets and only dropped seven points on his serve for the match.

Wawrinka’s fastest serve was 128mph, 15mph faster than Sousa’s 113mph delivery. Wawrinka averaged 113 mph on first serves, while Sousa only averaged 100 mph.

Wawrinka also put up solid numbers returning, hitting four return winners and won 32% against first serves and 50% against second serves, which is a difficult task on the fresh grass courts in the first week of The Championships. 

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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