Behind The Rise of Rafa - And What You Can Learn From Him
There are many new aspects you can bring into your game from watching top players - and Rafael Nadal was a great example, when he finally rose to become more than just the world's best claycourter - he was ranked no.1 and was holder of 3 of the four majors.
First of all, a great deal of his success had to do with Nadal's unquenchable, and unquestioning, belief in himself when playing against any player, on any court, at any time. Nadal backed himself to win, every single time.
Even when the pressure was truly on, such as when defending his claycourt titles against other highly ranked players such as Novak Djokovic, Nadal remained rock solid mentally and physically.
Much like Federer during his own unbeatable years of 2002-2007, he builtup a powerful level of mental intimidation within his opponents, even before they walked out onto court against him - and that is worth its weight in gold. Just as with Federer before him, opponents were beginning to walk out onto court, feeling already beaten, even before they started.
This invincibility wavered from time with Nadal's injuries causing him to lose confidence and vital matchplay.
Nadal used enormously powerful and intimidating body language on court, which displays the truly relentless warrior he is on court, and exudes the hunger and determination he possesses to see out the match and secure another win.
He always gave the impression that he is a tennis 'machine', who will simply never quit - and always seemed to be quite capable of staying out there for 7 hours if he has to, to secure his victory.
This helps to create massive mental pressure and intimidation which slowly but surely wears down his opponent's game, morale, and their willingness to fight - alongside with his relentess topspin groundstrokes.
Nadal always showed all the positive aspects of on-court body language - walking quickly between points and to his chair, keeping his head and shoulders up (never slumped), keeping his external frustration to a minimum, and celebrating his great shots with fist pumps and positive actions.
While those playing club, competition or tournament tennis may not feel as comfortable being as openly tigerish in their on-court approach as Nadal, you can still manage to have a toned-down version of positive body language on court, which:
a) strengthens your own mental state during the match, and
b) wears down your opponent's morale and willingness to fight
Additionally to Nadal's credit, he did not just sit with his tried-and-trusted winning formula - has also showed his willingness to experiment, and further develop his game - by playing the occasional doubles event to help work on his net game, and unveiling an even more ferocious version of his backhand groundstroke.
This complete willingness to constantly seek further improvement is certainly an aspect every competive player must have, in order to keep developing and realize your full potential.
Last of all, Nadal set his own personal mental and physical match rhythm during his matches - and this is something you need to personally discover for yourself. This involves both the time that goes into your preparation before the match begins, and also the rhythm and pace you move at, in between points and also when getting ready to serve and receive.
Nadal also walked onto court and took his time setting everything up by his chair that he needs, regardless of whether the other player and umpire are waiting for him on the court. He moves quickly in between points, but then very much takes his time to set himself up to serve, or to receive.
This has been Nadal's personal and familiar match rhythm which he employed during every single match he ever played. It helped him to feel settled mentally, and it also helped him to impose his match rhythm upon his opponent, and get his opponent to begin subconsciously playing the match to Nadal's preferred rhythm.
So now you know some of Nadal's mental weapons, go out on court and begin to assimilate some of them into your own game. Some of their advantages may seem very subtle, but they are very powerful.
You only need to gain the slightest edge during a close match, before the chinks in your opponent's armor may slowly begin to present themselves - and then you can begin to slowly but surely gain the ascendancy, and finish the match totally dominating it - just as Nadal always did.
"The Mind controls the body, and the Mind is Unlimited"
The best of success, Craig Townsend
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