Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Why is Nadal Serving Faster at the US Open 2010?

From Rafael Nadal's first game of the US Open in 2010, there has been lots of talk about his improved serve speed. Although being the best player in the world, Rafa has never had the best serve or even one of the better serves in the game. This improved serving speed though, would put him into the same first serve speed range as Murray and Federer and make him even more threatening on hard court surfaces, the only surface on which he is not consistently dominant.

In the Wimbledon 2010 final against Tomas Berdych, Nadal had a 69% first serve percentage, averaging 115MPH, with a fastest serve at 127MPH. In his 4th round match at the 2010 US Open against Feliciano Lopez, Rafa hit 63% first serves in, averaged 118 MPH for his first serve and maxed out at 135MPH.

Although one game does not suggest a complete turn around, the stats listed above seem to be consistent for all matches that Nadal played in both Wimbledon 2010 and so far in the US Open 2010. The stats suggest that Rafa's serving percentage is a little lower in the US Open (4%), his average first serve speed is only slightly higher (3MPH) and only his fastest serve seems to be impressively different with an increase of 8 MPH.

Rumours abound as to how Nadal has improved his 1st serve speed. His coach Tony Nadal says he opened his grip more. Rafa himself says, nothing is different. John McEnroe seems to be completely flummoxed.

Looking at it this way maybe there is not much to be surprised about. Nadal has always used a lot of spin and control in his serve. This is good enough for the slower clay and grass courts and was good enough for the slower hard court of the Australian Open in 2009, but for the fast courts at Flushing Meadow, Nadal knows that a few fast serves and quick points will benefit his game more, saving his joints and energy.

Therefore we believe in everything Rafa and his uncle and coach Tony have said. He is not doing too much different except opening up his grip and attempting more flat and hard serves rather than spin. His 6'1 height and obvious strength suggest there is little reason that he cannot hit a 135MPH flat serve, if he attempts one. He may be losing a little accuracy and lowering his 1st serve percentage but if he wins the US Open 2010, it will all have been worth it.

Below is some slow motion video of Nadal serving during training. Watch the video and pause it just before he hits the ball.
Watch how his hand is gripping the racket and how the racket turns after he hits through the ball.

In the first three serves in this video Nadal hits across the ball, putting spin on his serve. We can see this by the way the racket turns after striking the ball. The last serve in the video seems to be a bit flatter and the racket turns slower and later. In all cases though the grip looks the same and fairly closed.

The video is from March 2009 and therefore probably does not show any changes that Nadal has made for the US Open 2010. It does show us that in the past Nadal has used a lot of spin and a closed grip. Flattening out his first serve on a few occasions therefore is the most likely explanation of his increased first serve speed at the US Open.

No comments:

More Recommendations