By NICK NEMEROFF
Contributing writer, Tennis With An Accent
Conventional wisdom says you can’t charge the net against the best players in the world and expect to win.
If you’re playing Nadal, for instance, you’ll just keep getting passed, over and over.
While this may end up being true, it’s still the better strategy for most players against the top players in the world.
Let’s use Nadal as the case study here.
Nadal has won the French Open 11 times, 12 if he can beat Dominic Thiem on Sunday. We will soon find out. By the time you read this, it might already be 12.
Throughout this dominant run, most opponents have let Nadal demolish them from the baseline. Over the course of a best of five sets match, this strategy has proven not to work. The definition of tennis insanity is expecting different results with the same strategy.
To be clear: Attempting to beat Nadal at the French Open by waiting for good opportunities to go the net is a losing strategy. Those opportunities aren’t just going to come often enough. If you expect to beat Nadal at the French Open, you have to try to create opportunities to move forward. You need to serve and volley, you need to come to the net behind second serves, and you need to take any ball that is reasonably short and go the net. Waiting for golden opportunities just won’t cut it. This is the case in general when lower-ranked players run into higher-ranked players, on all surfaces, not just clay.
When I teach recreational players, I often tell lesser-skilled players to come to the net against their more talented opponents, especially when they are getting dominated from the baseline. They’ll try going to the net; they get passed one time; and they promptly give up.
What’s their next strategy? To go back to the baseline, where they were getting dominated to begin with.
Players, even pros, are seemingly okay losing regularly from the baseline, but when they lose one point at the net, they’ll only go back to the net to shake hands.
Being proactive to move forward against Nadal on clay is almost certainly a losing strategy, but it’s a more viable strategy than expecting to beat him from the back of the court.
If anything, going to the net shortens the points, strips Nadal of time, and allows the net-rusher a higher possibility of creating more acute angles. If you ask a basketball player if he would rather shoot more free throws or have more open dunks, he will of course take the slam dunks. Going to the net gives the net-rusher more opportunities to put the ball away. You’re just not going to pound Nadal into submission from the baseline
Even top players, such as Thiem and Wawrinka, who have more room to play from the baseline against Nadal, have been crushed in the past trying to beat him from the baseline. Look at the last two French Open finals.
Unless your name is Novak Djokovic, the only way you’re going to beat Nadal at the French Open is to take opportunities moving forward.
Is the strategy likely to fail? Yes. Beating the most dominant player in clay court history was never going to be easy. But an already arduous challenge will be made infinitely harder by replicating the losing strategy of so many of Nadal’s opponents at the French Open.
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