At present, Rafael Nadal is the player who ranks first by the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) men’s rankings. He is also considered as one of the greatest tennis players by many. Some may not agree, but Nadal does have the qualities to be considered as one. He is also named as the “King of Clay” because of his extraordinary achievements on a clay court. Thus almost everybody agree to call him as the greatest player on clay. At his young age of 25, Nadal has collected lots of trophies in professional tennis.
These trophies include: a) eighteen ATP World Tour Masters 1000 and b) nine grand slams. He has two Wimbledon trophies (2008 and 2010), one US open trophy (2010), one trophy in the Australian open (2009) and six French open trophies (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010). Nadal now belongs to the group which is called as the elite group in tennis professional players. Other players in this group include the likes of Roger Federer and Andre Agassi who also have trophies in each grand slam category.
Rafael Nadal is considered as an aggressive tennis player especially in baseline rallies. He is also very popular for his heavy topspin groundstrokes and that includes the Nadal backhand trademark. Aside from that, his opponent is always outplayed because of his very fast footwork. This very quick and fast footwork of Nadal makes his opponent afraid to execute drop shots because Nadal can cover the court that not many professional players can do. He is also one of the best defensive players in professional tennis. He can always convert his defensive game into an offensive one and win a point. Aside from being a defensive player, Nadal is also a very good offensive player. This can be accounted to his speed, agility and of course his technical and mental capabilities.
Rafael Nadal is on top of his game, and this can be credited to one of his best weapons in tennis, the Nadal backhand. Nadal’s two-handed backhand is discussed below.
Nadal Backhand Grip
Rafael Nadal is a left-handed player and the grip he employs in his dominant hand (the racket hand) is the Continental grip. The tennis grip he employs on his right hand (non-racket hand) is the Semi-Western grip. The Semi-Western grip allows Rafael Nadal’s backhand to produce more topspin than the Eastern forehand grip. This makes him different from other left handed-players because most of them use the Eastern forehand grip on their non dominant. In the two-handed stroke, it is the non dominant (right hand for left- handed player like Nadal but left hand for right-handed players.) that is responsible for the power that is produced during the shot. Nadal is one of the best tennis players in terms of the power and amount of topspin produced in a backhand shot.
Nadal’s backhand ready position is the typical ready position where he stands facing the net with his dominant hand (left hand since he is a left-handed player) holding the racket, while his non-dominant hand supports the racket at its throat. The racket points to the left net post. His feet also point towards the net.
The Nadal backhand preparation is characterized with his knees and arms in a relaxed manner with his knees slightly bent. His upper body is also slight bent forward. Then as he anticipates a shot to his backhand side, he then executes a split step as his opponent is about to hit the ball. This allows him to be ready to move to any directions.
The Nadal backhand takeback is lower than the other professional players. His arms are fully stretched with his racket head tip almost pointing to the ground at knee level. At the same time, Nadal bends his knees rather than bending his upper body. In case Nadal needs to stretch wide to reach the ball, he spreads his feet wide with this right foot pointing towards the net as his leverage to recover quickly after the return.
Many players find it difficult to use the two-handed backhand technique when the ball is too low and prefer to use the one-handed backhand, but not in the case of Rafael Nadal‘s backhand. Nadal keeps a low center of gravity as well as maintains a low to high swing pattern.
Top of the backswing
Nadal employs a standard backhand when he executes the two-handed backhand. Thus his backhand execution is characterized by a laid back manner wrist. Nadal brings his racket back at waistline level with his arms fully stretched. At the same time, he does a 90 degrees shoulder turn. Other professional players bring their racket back above their waist line. His racket face is slight closed. The high point of his backswing is when his racket points to the back fence or the back side of his court.
In Nadal’s forward swing, his two hands are fully stretched, with his eye glued to the ball and with the racket face positioned down to the ball. This movement allows Nadal to produce heavy topspin in his two-handed backhand because the brushing effect of the racket face into the ball. At this instance, Nadal’s weight is also transferred to the front foot or right foot (left foot for right-handed players).
Split seconds before contact, the racket face is vertical and the long axis of the racket (from the end part of the handle to the top most part odd the racket head or simple the longest dimension of the racket) is in parallel position with the ground. At the same time, he bends his knees while pushing his legs upwards. Again his eyes never leave the ball.
Racket slightly closed on Contact
During the point of contact (when the ball touches the racket face), Nadal’s positions his racket face in a slightly closed manner (the racket face or stringbed side that comes in contact with the ball slightly facing the ground). Rafael Nadal’s backhand is unique for the way that he is able to lift the ball upwards rapidly to generate a heavy topspin backhand.
Nadal does it successfully because the way he swing his racket, he is able to create enough upward friction between the ball and the racket strings. In addition, Nadal also hits the ball when it is on the rise. As a result, the upward angle of the rising ball creates topspin as the racket moves upward after contact. Thus even if Nadal’s racket is slightly facing the ground, the topspin created on the ball allows for a high net clearance.
Contact Point Heights
The two handed backhand can be a difficult shot if the point of contact is high, especially if the contact point occurs at the chest level or higher. Most likely, this type of shot causes more strain on the players arms. If Nadal has to execute this high point contact, normally he hits the ball on the center of percussion point of the racket face. This is the point of the racket where the ball produces minimal early shock on his hands, thus lessening the strain. Although this does not happen in the Nadal backhand often, but he still has the capabilities to execute this to his advantage.
Due to the heavy topspin of the Rafael Nadal backhand, his racket goes up higher immediately after contact. It is even higher than the height of the ball that is already traveling back to his opponent’s court. At this instance of Nadal’s backhand, his racket face is still in a slightly closed position. This could be the continuation of the slightly closed face racket position during contact.
Nadal Backhand Follow-through
Normally, the longer and the quicker your swing is, the higher the possibility that your racket will end up behind your back on the follow-through. In the case of the Nadal’s backhand, his follow-through is always at his back. This shows his remarkable racket head speed. Rafael Nadal’s backhand is unique in his arm configuration. Nadal does not bend both elbows after he strikes the ball. Instead, Nadal’s left arm is actually straight at contact, at this position is maintained after contact into the follow through. This is another aspect of the Nadal forehand that is difficult to perfect, thus many players find it very uncomfortable.
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