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By Chris Oddo | Wednesday, November 11, 2015

 
Rafael Nadal 2015

Rafael Nadal's struggles against the top-10 have hindered his progress in the second half of 2015.

Photo Source: Julian Finney/Getty

It has been a trying year for Rafael Nadal—that’s no secret. He's gone 4-10 vs. the Top-10 and won only one of eight vs. the Top-5. But the burning question still remains: why has Nadal’s once legendary game been diluted so much? Has Nadal just been the victim of nerves and are his struggles simply related to a lack of confidence in the big points? Or, are his issues larger and less correctable? Has the explosiveness and potency left his game, leaving his movement a step slow and his power less potent? If so, can he remedy this by 2016?

All year we’ve been curious to know what exactly is holding Nadal back. Rather than speculate we headed over to Tennis Abstract to get some cold, hard statistical insight into Nadal’s 2015. Has it really been as bad as it seems? Is he close to pulling out of it? We pulled five stats that tell the story of Rafael Nadal’s struggles. While they are no means a death sentence—it feels like Nadal is getting closer to finding his missing mojo every week—they do paint a picture of a player who has at least temporarily lost his dominion over the elite.

All stats come courtesy of Tennis Abstract:

1: Service Games Held: After spending 2012 and 2013 in the top-5 of this category, Nadal’s numbers have slipped in the last two years.

Service Games Held, Overall ranking/ Pct

2015: 16th, 84.1
2014: 13th, 85.3
2013: 5th, 88.1

2. Serving Woes vs. Top-10: Nadal has struggled even more vs. the ATP’s elite. This is where we really begin to see the difference in Nadal’s statistics.

Service Games Held vs. Top-10, Ranking/Pct

2015: 21st, 70.8
2014: 18th, 78.7
2013: 5th, 82.7

3. Sets won vs Top-10: Winning sets has been a challenge vs. the top-10. Again, the numbers are quite startling.

Sets Won vs. Top-10, Pct:

2015: 10-23, 30.3
2014: 18-12, 60
2013: 52-19, 73.2

4. Struggling to break Top-10 also: Our belief is that Nadal’s serve, and his difficulty holding serve, has been his biggest issue in 2015. But the stats show that he’s struggling to break against elite players as well:

Return games won vs. Top-10, Pct/ overall ranking

2015: 14.6, 18th
2014: 29.5, 3rd
2013: 31.5, 1st

Nadal’s doing fine in his return games overall, however:

Return Games Won, Overal, PCT/ overall ranking:

2015: 34.8, 2nd
2014: 35, 1st
2013: 33.8, 2nd

Note: Nadal broke 37.4 percent of the time on clay against the ATP this year, but against the Top-10 on clay, he only broke 19.7 percent of the time (in six matches). Apparently, Nadal has a mountain to climb on clay, just as he does on hard.

Do these statistics help shed any light on Nadal’s form, and give any guidance as to what he might need to do to improve his results? They probably make his situation look far worse than it really is. In reality, it doesn’t seem like he’s in a different league as the ATP’s Top-10 at the moment. But the stats do tell a different story.

We should find out a whole lot more next week in London, when only the Top-8 will be in play at the World Tour Finals. It’s the perfect opportunity for Nadal to get his confidence back against the players he’ll need to beat next year if he is to return to Grand Slam and Masters 1000 winning form.


 

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