Rafael Nadal’s Return to Sender

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There is much that distinguishes Rafael Nadal from his tennis peers: his bolo whip of a left-handed forehand; his point-by-point positive energy and his enduring obsession with arranging his beverage bottles just so.

There is also the U.

That is the shape of the trend line on a chart that reflects Nadal’s court position when returning serve.

At times he takes a conventional approach: standing close to or inside the baseline to return. But at many other moments, including the stretch run of last year’s triumphant United States Open campaign, he becomes an outlier: retreating two meters or more behind the baseline.

He is much less attracted to the middle ground than other elite players, a fact borne out by research by Tennis Australia’s Game Insight Group, or GIG.

“Nadal’s preferences are very different,” said Stephanie Kovalchik, a data scientist with GIG. “His preferences follow a U-shape such that he has about an equal preference for standing on or inside the baseline as he prefers to stand very far back.”

Source: The New York Times