Nadal’s nightmare is a man with an aggressive game(remember his matches with Soderling and Del Potro in ‘09). In fact, Nadal’s worst nightmare in recent time has become Djokovic because of how consistently he executes his aggressive game.
Djokovic spreads the court extremely well, and he is probably the best at this currently on tour. His ability to change direction off both sides is phenomenal and this does incredible amounts of damage to Nadal especially when Djokovic plays close to the baseline.
Nadal is known for playing rather far back so that means if his depth is off that day, Djokovic will be all over him baseline-wise since he plays close to the baseline and can comfortably take shots on the rise.
When talking groundstrokes, no question does Djokovic possess the better backhand
- His backhand rarely ever breaks down and can easily produce winners, which Nadal is not used to because the backhand is usually where he attempts to draw errors.
- He has a very solid high backhand shot which further puts Nadal at a disadvantage since this eliminates one of his go-to strategies (pounding the backhand with his heavy-spin forehand).
- His ability to go down the line sets him up perfectly to avoid Nadal’s forehand. Doing this enables him to have the forehand vs backhand exchange. This is what Djokovic looks for because his forehand is a more solid stroke compared to Nadal’s backhand.
Although not as good as his backhand, Djokovic has a solid forehand
- He handles Nadal’s heavy-spin forehand most of the times comfortably
- His forehand is very versatile. Can spin and flatten with power as he pleases and does so intelligently.
What makes Djokovic even more difficult to defeat is that not only does he possess a strong aggressive game, but he has incredible defense as well. With that combo combined with his fitness, that means Djokovic can even go toe-to-toe with Nadal in lengthy and grueling rallies constantly shifting from offense to defense.
Although Djokovic has great defense, that’s not his main strategy against Nadal; it is to be as consistently aggressive as he can. Being able to execute his aggressive playing style against Nadal frequently – unless Nadal is stepping up and playing close to the baseline – Djokovic will be in control of most of the rallies pressuring Nadal. If you view the highlights of their match in the final of Monte Carlo in 2013, you will see how Djokovic always tries to position himself close to the baseline and why Nadal has such a difficult time effectively responding. Against each other, what seems to be a huge factor in who is going to win the match is court position. In the video, you will see that Djokovic is hugging the baseline while Nadal is a couple feet behind the baseline in most points. Because of this situation, the balls are coming back towards Nadal quicker, leaving him less time to load up his vicious forehand or run around his backhand. In addition, the effectiveness of his forehand along with his backhand decrease as well, which of course, gives more time to Djokovic to execute his shots. They both in fact spread the court beautifully; it is just the players’ court positions that gives Djokovic the upper edge.
So what is there left to do for Nadal at this point when
- His “go to the backhand” strategy does not work
- His court position is weak compared to Djokovic
- Djokovic has a consistent aggressive game along with his fine defense
In reality it is rather simple, Nadal either has to just be more aggressive by playing closer to the baseline (he does not really need to amp up his groundstrokes – especially the forehand – for they are penetrating enough) or he must laboriously grind out the points and out-rally Djokovic, which is definitely not the recommended tactic considering his knees. Ultimately, being passive against Djokovic will most of the time not work out, so the better and probably braver route is to definitely be aggressive against him.