Novak Djokovic’s stunning annihilation of Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final provided a blueprint on how to beat the Spaniard.
Nadal looked unstoppable en route to the showpiece match, not dropping a set and also not losing serve since his opening match.
Djokovic, on the other hand, had a tougher route and dropped two sets – one apiece against Denis Shapovalov and Daniil Medvedev.
The Medvedev match in particular was a brutal one physically for Djokovic and one wonders what could have happened had the Russian capitalized on a few break point chances early in the third set.
Given both players’ route to the final there was enough to suggest that Nadal could win.
Pundits were divided and it appeared as though it was a 50-50 match.
Nadal was, after all, 9-5 head-to-head in majors against Djokovic.
But what transpired came as a shock to many and it has become clear that Djokovic knows how to beat Nadal.
The blueprint he uses is perhaps a route other players are afraid (or simply not skilled enough) to even try.
Going right into the strength of Nadal is a daunting prospect.
Once he rips that heavy topspin forehand crosscourt – and right into a right-hander’s backhand – it so often puts his opponent under pressure.
Nadal’s crosscourt forehand almost always puts him in command as it forces his opponent to hit a topspin backhand, normally at shoulder height.
The end result is often (especially for the single-handers) a meek reply which allows Nadal to step in and rip it for a forehand winner.
But against Djokovic that strategy does not work so well – the Serb’s backhand is rock solid and can handle Nadal’s heavy spin.
It therefore allows Djokovic to reply with an equally potent shot back crosscourt to the Nadal forehand.
Last Sunday on Rod Laver Arena, Djokovic constantly opted to hit wide through the ad court to attack Nadal’s running forehand.
Nadal’s backhand may not look spectacular but it is a rock-solid shot, almost impenetrable and Djokovic knows this.
He therefore peppered Nadal with balls into his forehand wing, and with the Spaniard often leaning towards his backhand on the deuce court, Djokovic continued to unleash into the open court on Nadal’s forehand, often getting him to stretch wide on the ad court.
Once Djokovic was able to break down the Nadal forehand, the Spaniard’s confidence went and with it the rest of his game.
Nadal made 28 unforced errors on his forehand wing and 21 on his backhand side – which Djokovic opted to attack at just the right moments.
With Nadal’s confidence shot, his new-look serve that had worked so well throughout the fortnight in Melbourne, was also off its mark.
Nadal won 81 percent of first-serve points leading into the Australian Open final, but the shot capitulated when it mattered most as he won a meager 51% off it against Djokovic.
Djokovic’s strategy was simple but, as other tour professionals have found out, not so easy to execute…
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