So far, the men’s tennis year is proceeding in tidy, quarterly segments. The star of Segment One was clearly Roger Federer, the man from Switzerland taking three titles by the end of March and then taking a spring sabbatical.
Soon enough came the continued resurgence of Rafael Nadal. Nadal’s rise back up the ranks has been taking place all year. In Segment One, he reached the finals in Australia and Miami. And now, since April, he has commanded Segment Two – three clay court titles, a 15-0 match record on the dirt, Nadal dropping just two sets in this period.
It’s interesting to note how Federer and Nadal have gone about winning these titles. For Federer, it’s about aggression, most notably in the form of his improved backhand, a shot all who follow tennis regard with the joy of discovering a brand new toy.
For Nadal, the buzzword is execution. Over the course of 2015 and ’16, Nadal spoke frequently about his lack of confidence, demonstrated vividly by short forehands and missed opportunities. For reasons perhaps even Nadal doesn’t know, so far this spring he has regained his belief, resulting in far better performance. Or has better performance aided his confidence? The answer hardly matters.
Each path is valid, no matter what a player’s skill level. Seeking to enhance a shot as Federer has? Fine, but perhaps it helped that Federer took six months off competitive tennis in 2016 and was able to sharpen the tool away from the outcome-based world of the tour. Do recreational players have the guts to wean themselves off league play and tournaments for this long?
In the case of Nadal, consider his serve. Certainly it helps Nadal’s cause when from time to time he aims his delivery to the forehand. But at heart, everyone on the planet knows that when push comes to shove – particularly in the ad court – Nadal will swing his serve wide. If on some cases the weapon is doubt, in others the weapon is knowledge. Nadal’s message to the opponent is simple: Here it comes. Deal with it.
Each of these two titans has made a mark this year by making improvements – quite an inspiration to all who watch and play tennis.
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