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Finish the job like Rafael Nadal


Originally published on: 02/11/10 12:24

‘Finish the job like Rafael Nadal’ featured in the September 2010 issue of tennishead magazine. For more details on how to subscribe, click here.

Objectives: Fools rush in
The mental approach to a ‘kill shot’ like this is important. Finding yourself in this position is simply the consequence of hard work you’ve put in to produce a winning position, so visualise finishing the job rather than snatching at an opportunity. And practice! Hit a variety of short balls to get an idea of the power and spin you need to clear the net by 50-100cm and keep the ball in.

Tactics: The ball’s in your court…
Nadal leaves the entire court open by electing to play his forehand, but there is an instinctive logic in his decision. Players can generate more power and disguise with the forehand, especially on a high ball, so the likelihood of it coming back is slim. Almost like a striker taking a penalty in football, he can either wait for his opponent to move and hit the empty court, or pick his spot and let rip.

Nadal tracks the flight of a short, looping ball, immediately looking to move forward. His weight transfers from his left foot towards the tramline to take the ball on with a forehand, despite the ball landing on his backhand wing.

Eyes still trained on the ball, Nadal circles round to give himself plenty of space early and leave him in a position to step into the shot without crowding the shot. He holds the racket with his western forehand grip in plenty of time.

As the ball bounces up head-high, Nadal is ready to strike. He loads his legs, turns his shoulders and takes his racket back. From this position he could hit virtually any part of the court, making the shot unreadable for his opponent.

Key point: Nadal raises his right arm to counterbalance his racket arm and keep his shoulders level.

Perfect timing: Nadal has unleashed the kinetic chain to explode upwards into the ball. Every part of his body – his legs, torso, both arms and head – have fired in sequence to dispatch the ball with controlled power.

Key point: Nadal is hitting this ball ‘inside-out’, cross-court away from his body. Note the way his bodyweight is moving in the same direction

Having hit up the over the ball to add some topspin to the flat drive, Nadal follows through in front of his body to send the ball downwards. His back leg extends out behind him, acting as a brake to counterbalance the speed of his swing.

Like all top players, Nadal’s head remains still long after the ball has gone. His weight is still moving forwards as he lands. He is totally committed to the shot from the start of his approach until well after the ball is struck.

Key point: Be sure not to touch or fall into the net as you follow through, otherwise your opponent gets the point



Tim Farthing, Tennishead Editorial Director & Owner, has been a huge tennis fan his whole life. He's a tennis journalist and entrepreneur as well as playing tennis to a national standard. He also helps manage his local club and volunteers for his local tennis organisation. He's a specialist in content about the administration of professional tennis and tennis coaching for all levels.