This article was written by Mathew Shaw
Rafael Nadal has climbed to the top after the world rankings after only returning from injury in February.
It’s hard to fathom the emotions Rafael Nadal would have felt on Saturday evening.
The clay-court specialist was sidelined for nearly seven months due to tendinitis in his knee. Consistently troubled by knee problems, there were even short-lived rumours that the injury may force the 27-year old to retire from the sport.
But by making it to the China Open final and despite a defeat to rival Novak Djokovic, Nadal once again reigns supreme over tennis.
Since his return, the Mallorcan, has won an astonishing 65 of 69 matches, including two Grand Slam titles.
Unlike previous seasons, ‘The King of Clay” has managed to transfer his form from the red dirt onto hard courts. Going unbeaten (27-0) before his loss to Djokovic on Sunday.
The only blip in his campaign being a shock first round exit at Wimbledon to unseeded player Steve Darcis. Such a defeat sparked questions whether Nadal will have a future SW19 glory because of the strain the surface puts on his knees. But they can only be answered once the left-hander returns to the ‘hallowed turf’ next summer.
Despite the surprise loss, it’s clear that the decision for Nadal to recuperate in his hometown of Manacor. And only return once fit has paid full dividends. He’s at the peak of his fitness, harking back to 2009 when he won back-to-back five set matches to capture the Australian Open.
A clean bill of health has laid the foundations for the 13-time champion to play the best tennis of his career. However his form can also be explained by slight alterations to his playing style.
The remodelling of his serve has been key to his recent domination on hard-courts. He has worked meticulously to flatten out his serve, generating greater speed. This has allowed the Spaniard to gain cheap points on his delivery, helping to conserve more energy.
Players have simply been unable to cope with the ferociousness of the new serve. In winning the US Open, Nadal was only broken a staggering four times.
Equally important in Nadal’s return to the top has been a radical change in tactics. Throughout his career, the Mallorcan has relied on his pure athleticism, with his game being shaped around endurance and the ability to outlast his opponent.
However his coach Toni Nadal understood that for the longevity of his nephew’s career, this needed to change.
During the American hard-court season, Nadal’s main tactic was to move inside the court and use his whipped forehand to end the rally quicker. Instead of his traditional tendency to passively hit from the baseline.
Nadal’s backhand has also become a greater weapon. In previous years he would predominantly hit ‘percentage shots’ with his backhand, using heavy top spin to stay between the lines. But now to protect his knees, his backhand is struck a lot deeper forcing more errors from his opponents.
The Spaniard’s meteoric rise up the rankings has also been helped by the inconsistent performances of his rivals, with Andy Murray suffering a post-Wimbledon slump and Roger Federer reaching the twilight of his career.
Nevertheless, Rafael Nadal’s resurgence this year has surprised the entire tennis community, as no-one could have imagined such an incredible season after so long on the sidelines.
Nadal is playing a brand of unstoppable tennis and if he can remain healthy then he is in a great position to break Federer’s grand slam record.Tweet