Four Keys To Nadal Winning His 10th Monte-Carlo Crown
The Mediterranean shimmers at one end of the court. Sheer rock cliffs tower behind the elegant clubhouse at the other end. In the middle is a court of clay. Enter, Rafael Nadal.
Nadal is a staggering 58-4 at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters since 2003, winning nine titles and $5.5 million from just this one stop on tour.
Can he win it again in 2017? To know what’s coming in the future, it is best to connect the clay court dots from the past. An Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers analysis of his successful 2016 campaign, when he dropped only two sets en route to his ninth Monte-Carlo title, identifies four key areas of dominance.
1. Break Points
Converting a break point against Nadal in Monte-Carlo is one of the toughest things to do in our sport. Period. Nadal saved 65 per cent (194/297) of his break points in the 2016 season, and that elevated to 72 per cent (34/47) in Monte-Carlo last year. The sea-level, clay-court conditions are tailor made for his high-bouncing, heavy-spin game.
The Spaniard defeated Dominic Thiem in the round of 16 here last year, saving a colossal 15 of 17 break points for the match. The key was making first serves in the important moments. There were 14 break points contested in the ad court. Nadal made 12 first serves. Three break points were played in the deuce court. Nadal made a first serve on two of them.
Overall, Thiem got a look at only three second serves out of 17 break points – and Nadal saved all three of them. These moments in time weigh heavily to the final outcome.
Nadal is far more lethal in Monte-Carlo returning a second serve than hitting one. Last year, when hitting his own second serve, he won only 49 per cent (53/108) of the points, but he won a mind-blowing 60 per cent (97/161) when returning his opponent’s second serves.
Nadal’s primary tactic is start well behind the baseline, let the second serve drop and crush a forehand return. He then looks to immediately improve his court position up around the baseline, where he finds superior geometry for his wicked spin.
Nadal converted a break point 56 per cent (14/25) of the time in Monte-Carlo last year receiving a second serve and 36.7 per cent (11/30) against a first serve.
3. Playing From In Front
Nadal is a nightmare to try and break when he gets a lead in his own service games.
2016 Monte-Carlo: Percentage Chance of Holding Serve
15/0 = 93.5% (29/31)
30/0 = 100% (19/19)
30/15 = 95.8% (23/24)
40/15 = 100% (20/20)
Nadal was extended to deuce only 16 times on serve in Monte-Carlo last year, losing just four of those service games. The pressure to hold is constant and adds another layer of strategic influence in the match for the Spaniard.
4. Time Is On His Side
During the 2016 season, Nadal averaged playing 47 minutes per set. That rose to 51 minutes in Monte-Carlo. Nadal uses time as a weapon on court, typically playing the match much more at his speed than that of his opponents. He certainly does not rush to the finish line.
All of the key ingredients from Nadal’s successful 2016 campaign will once again be on show this week. The game plan will be adjusted slightly for each opponent, but the road forward will still be dominated by these four key components.