How Can Rafael Nadal Beat Novak Djokovic at Australian Open 2021?

Published 02/04/2021, 3:30 PM EST
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA: Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Rafael Nadal of Spain cross paths during change of ends during the Men’s Singles Final match during day 14 of the 2019 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 27, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)


The Australian Open title has been elusive to Rafael Nadal over the last decade. Nadal won the first and only trophy at the Australian Open in 2009. Despite reaching the finals of Melbourne Park on four occasions post-2009, Nadal has lost in each of the appearances.

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Who’s the biggest obstacle for Rafael Nadal?

In two of those four finals, Novak Djokovic has been the impediment to Nadal’s success. The duo played their first Australian Open Final in 2012, which Djokovic won in an epic five-set battle. The final was dubbed as one the greatest matches of all time and still remains the longest Grand Slam Singles Final.

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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA: Novak Djokovic of Serbia shakes hands with Rafael Nadal of Spain after winning the match point during their final singles match daring day 10 of the ATP Cup at Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Andy Cheung/Getty Images)

At the 2019 Australian Open Final, Djokovic again came like a brick wall to Nadal’s chances. However, this time, Djokovic decimated Nadal in straight sets and displayed one of his finest ever career performances.

With the 2021 Australian Open starting in less than a week, the biggest obstacle between Nadal and his goal of winning a second title at Melbourne Park is the World No.1, Novak Djokovic. The Spaniard may need to strategize differently and play aggressively throughout to fancy his chances against the 8-time Australian Open champion.

Here’s what Nadal needs to do to beat Djokovic at the 2021 Australian Open:

Return Games

With Djokovic being one of the best servers on the tour, an effective service return becomes extremely crucial for Nadal. Instead of standing far behind the baseline to return serve, Nadal should instead stand closer to the baseline to play more aggressively.

Rafael Nadal of Spain returns the ball during the quarterfinals of the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Jason Heidrich/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Moreover, Nadal should flatten his returns and hit them deep into the court to reduce Djokovic’s reaction time. Mostly, Nadal topspin laden return falls inside the service box, allowing Djokovic to step forward and clean it with a backhand winner.

Service

Many a time, Nadal’s deep wide serves on Djokovic’s backhand side have proven effective in pushing the Serbian at the back of the court. The 20-time Grand Slam champion needs to execute the ‘serve plus one’ strategy by serving wide open and setting the next shot for a winner.

Also, the Spaniard should hit more body serves to Djokovic to keep his arch-rival guessing. With Djokovic arguably being the best returner in the game, Nadal needs more firepower in his second serves to have an upper hand.

Rally

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We have witnessed the two heavyweights indulge in exquisite shot-making and gruesome rallies in Grand Slam finals. Nadal needs to flatten his shots during the rallies because it deprives Djokovic to dictate the rally. Rather than continuously hitting Djokovic’s backhand side, Nadal should make the Serbian move from corner to corner.

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic and Spain’s Rafael Nadal on the court before the final REUTERS/Charles Platiau

In fact, during the 2020 French Open Final, Nadal played the entire match attacking from the baseline and made Djokovic run from one end to the other. Nadal needs to play similarly against Djokovic at the Australian Open and shorten the rallies by coming more often to the net.

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With both tennis stars at the twilight of their careers, it would be spectacular to witness another epic final between Nadal and Djokovic at the Australian Open.

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Kshitij Tayal

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Kshitij Tayal is a tennis author at EssentiallySports. Having played district-level tennis competitions, Kshitij is also a tenured journalist of the sport with over four years of experience. At EssentiallySports, he pens down some thought-provoking pieces on players and tournaments across the ATP and WTA.

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