Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are set to meet each other in the 2013 French Open semifinals. This has been the predominant rivalry in men’s tennis for a while now and these two definitely bring out the best in each other!

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In this post I want to take a look at the keys to the match and and share my thoughts on who will win.

Head To Head

First I think it is important to take a quick look at the head-to-head between these two great competitors. Nadal has a slight edge here with 19 victories over Djokovic’s 15.

Novak Djokovic has won 7 out of the last 10 matches between these two though and I think the momentum is definitely on Novak’s side!

On clay the two have a 3-3 record since 2011. Nadal obviously has been almost unbeatable on clay but Novak in my opinion has all the abilities to beat Nadal on clay and he has proven that several times already.

One last thing to note is that Novak beat Rafa in their only match on clay earlier this year in Monte Carlo 6-2 7-6.

Keys To The Match:

So what are the keys to this match ? These two are playing at the absolute highest level and I expect another epic battle of the highest quality. In the end I believe it comes down to this:

Whoever plays aggressive from both sides (forehand and backhand) and doesn’t miss much will win this match!

And this is exactly the reason why Novak Djokovic has had an edge on Nadal in recent years. Novak manages to play super aggressive his with forehand and backhand whereas Rafael Nadal was oftentimes only able to play aggressive with his forehand.

He sliced a lot of backhands and did not hit his topspin backhands very aggressive!

Keys For Novak Djokovic:

#1: Stand In Close And Play Very Aggressive

The big key for Novak to this rivalry has been his ability to take Nadal’s forehand topspin shots early with his backhand, positioned well inside the court.

From this position he can take balls on the rise either down the line or cross-court to really open up the court and he has been able to hurt Nadal significantly with this strategy!

This allows him to execute an overall aggressive game plan, where he remains close to the baseline and oftentimes finds himself well inside the court!

Here Is A Typical Rally Dominated By Novak Djokovic:

No other player on tour has been able to do this with Nadal’s heavy forehand topspin shots on a regular basis!

#2: Punish Nadal For Runnind Around The Backhand Too Much

Nadal runs around his backhand excessively on clay, oftentimes leaving the court completely open. It does not cause him much trouble against most players because they are not able to attack Nadal’s high bouncing forehand shots, even when they land short. 

Djokovic is a different animal though because he has managed to attack those shots relentlessly with his forehand and backhand. This requires a lot of courage because Nadal’s forehand shots do bounce extremely high but Djokovic has the confidence to do it!

So Djokovic needs to be looking to do this over and over again. Take those shots on the rise whenever possible and hit into the open court. 

#3: Look To Take Balls Out Of The Air To Finish Points

When you manage to control the rally against Nadal you still have to finish him off and that is extremely difficult. One strategy to get it done is to take balls out of the air.

Djokovic has done this a bit in the past but I believe he could make even better use of this strategy, looking to hit topspin volleys and finishing off those points where Nadal is already way behind the baselin!

#4: High First Serve Percentage To Nadal’s Backhand

Starting the rally off on offense is a big key to this match-up and it is also difficult to win free points off of your first serve. As a result, I think it makes a lot of sense for Djokovic to hit lots of first serves to Nadal’s backhand, focusing on a relatively high first serve percentage. 

Nadal is not very confident in his backhand return and oftentimes leaves it short around the service line.

Keys For Rafael Nadal:

#1: Hit Confident Topspin Backhand Shots

Nadal has been hitting way too many slice backhand shots against Novak Djokovic and oftentimes he does not seem to have the confidence to hit lots of aggressive two-handed backhands. 

The big key for Nadal is to avoid the slice backhand and hit confident topspin backhand shots throughout the entire match!

#2: Do Not Run Around The Backhand Too Much

This is closely related to the first key for Nadal.

Nadal needs to run around his backhand less and hit his backhand with confidence so that the court geometry works more in his favor. 

The way he played in the past, Nadal had to do a lot more running and Djokovic controlled the centre of the court. To change that Nadal needs to run around the backhand less!

#3: Stand In Closer To The Baseline

As a result of #1 and #2, Nadal should be able to stand in closer than usual and take control of more baseline rallies.

#4: Attack The Djokovic Forehand

Nadal is used to hitting heavy topspin shots to his opponents backhand until he gets a short ball. Unfortunately for him, that strategy does not work very well against Djokovic because of his excellent backhand. 

Nadal should try to hit more aggressive shots to the Djokovic forehand wing. This would surprise Novak a bit and his forehand is also slightly vulnerable under lots of time pressure.

#5: Serve To The Djokovic Forehand More Than Usual

Nadal is used to serving to opponents backhands and then taking control of the rally with his forehand. 

Again this does not work very well against Novak because his backhand return is probably the best in the game. Novak’s returns are weaker on the forehand wing (against first serves) and that’s why Nadal should hit lots of first serves to Djokovic’s forehand!

#6: Try To Hit Some Backhand Winners

In my opinion, Nadal’s goal should be to hit at least a couple of backhand winners in every set. That will put him in the right mindset with the backhand and get him out of his standard strategy that has not been working that great against Novak.

My Prediction

Even though the bookies think differently, I believe Djokovic is the favorite to win this match.

He was in superb form against Tommy Haas and he has a proven strategy to beat Nadal. If Djokovic plays at his highest level, which I expect in this match, then he has a very good chance to win.

What Do You Think About The Match ? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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