Monday, February 09, 2009

Lessons Learned From Rafael Nadal

The final match of the Australian Open was a five-setter between #1 Rafael Nadal and #2 Roger Federer, but the match of the tournament was two days earlier when Nadal beat fellow Spanish lefthander Fernando Verdasco 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (1), 6-4. The battle royale lasted five hours and fourteen minutes, the longest tennis match ever played at the Australian Open.

Before watching that match, I had never been much of a Nadal fan. He does not play a particularly exciting brand of tennis. He tracks down balls about as well as anyone, but the rest of his game is fairly unspectacular. He is just a very well-rounded player with minimal weaknesses.

Verdasco, a stylish baseliner, played just about as well as you can play the game and still lose. He played aggressively from the start and dictated the play. Most points were decided by Verdasco, not Nadal. Verdasco hit an astounding 95 winners compared to Nadal’s 52, and out-aced Nadal 20 to 12. He hung in for over five hours against Nadal, who is generally considered to be one of the fittest players on tour. Verdasco hit some of the best shots I have ever seen, and maintained his accurate aggression the entire match.

But it wasn’t enough. Nadal let Verdasco dictate the play, doubting he could keep up that high level of tennis throughout the match. Verdasco made 76 unforced errors while Nadal made only 25. There is no way a tennis player can play as aggressively as Verdasco was playing and not make a lot of unforced errors. Nadal sent back as much as he could in play, and hit his own fair share of winners. Most importantly, he never cracked. Nadal just doesn’t screw up. He just keeps plugging away, never gets angry or frustrated, never throws away games.

Watching the match you could see Nadal trying to wait him out. He was probably surprised Verdasco hung so tough, especially after losing the second set and a third set tiebreaker, but that didn’t affect his play. It was all business.

Up 5-4 on Verdasco’s serve in the fifth set, Nadal was able to scratch out the first two points to put Verdasco in a 0-30 hole. Verdasco then double faulted to give Nadal three match points. Incredibly, that was only Verdasco’s third double fault of the match. Verdasco then won the next two points to get back to 30-40, then double faulted on match point. It took five hours and ten minutes, but Verdasco finally cracked and lost the match. Nadal waited him out.

I have ripped off a nice winning streak of cash game sessions over the last month. Most of it has been at 5-10, where the players are often a step behind the higher limits. The usual session consists of me bleeding off money in drips and drabs before catching someone in a mistake and making a score. My adversaries pound away with relentless aggression but I don’t crack. It is very difficult to stack GnightMoon. They hit more winners than me, but I almost never make an unforced error. Eventually, even if my opponents are on their game, they will crack.


Blogger Spencetron said...

The Rafael Nadals of the world are few and far between. Ridiculous athleticism coupled with incredible mental toughness makes a tough competitor in any sport. One other thing to think about is that Nadal is a lefty, which means he has a little bit of a curveball to his game. While it may not dictate every point, every once in a while Nadal will do something that only a lefty could do and it stays in his opponents mind the rest of the match. I only point this out because I love to make the random (some may say maniac) play which may stick in the back of my opponents mind come those big points.

12:01 AM  

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