This rivalry has been marked by extreme momentum swings. Nadal found his top gear on tour earlier than Djokovic and won five of the first six matches between them; then they split four. Nadal won seven of the next eight, then Djokovic found himself and won 10 of 12. Nadal got the upper hand again, winning six of seven over the next two years, but Djokovic won 11 of 12 from 2013 to 2016 while Nadal was battling injury and form issues. But then Djokovic dealt with his own set of injuries and issues, and Nadal had won five of the past eight — with all wins coming on clay — before Djokovic’s Friday win.
- In Paris, Rafael Nadal Is the Same as Always, and Yet He’s Different | The New York Times
From 2012 to 2016, Nadal hit 30 percent of his first shots after his serves from inside the baseline. But each year he has worked with Moya, that number has risen, first to 36 percent, then to 39 percent, then to 41 percent, and last year to 42 percent.
Why is that so important? Because when Nadal hits that first shot from inside the baseline, he wins 74 percent of the points. When he hits the first shot from behind the baseline, he wins just 59 percent of the points.
And while Nadal often drifts deep into the back court when his opponents serve, the points quickly evolve into a fight for him to get forward, to that nub of tape in the middle of the baseline he earlier kicked clean to give himself a target to scurry toward during the point.
Even though Nadal is giving himself less time to set up by stepping into the court for that first shot, he is still hitting the ball back as hard as he always did, on average about 75 miles per hour, according to Hawkeye, with a fierce level of topspin that makes his ball feel like a rock on his opponents’ rackets.
Novak Djokovic’s epic battle with Rafael Nadal in the Roland Garros semi-finals began trending on Twitter long before the match ticked over the four-hour mark. After 13-time champion Nadal won the opening set, Djokovic fought back to win 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(4), 6-2 to set up a meeting with Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final.
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