© Ella Ling

Paris 14

How to beat Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros


Control the centre of the court (obviously easier said than done). “You can’t stay back against Nadal,” Goran Ivanisevic has said, “as he will kill you.” Boris Becker has given the same advice: “To beat Nadal you have to control the centre of the court – you have to stand close to the baseline and not defend too deep.” By standing closer to the baseline, you have a wider angle to aim for, so giving yourself a greater opportunity of dominating rallies and smoking winners.

Play like Nadal. “I think the best way to play Nadal is to play Nadal’s usual game,” Bjorn Borg has said. “That means you have to keep getting the ball back into play and you have to keep on making your opponent play one more shot.”

Others disagree – saying you must go for your shots against Nadal. “You have to avoid long rallies,” said Becker. “That’s not easy, but you have to find a way. You have to take chances and in particular go for the shots down the line. You have to take Nadal out of his comfort zone.” It was by playing aggressive, confrontational tennis that Robin Soderling defeated Nadal in the fourth round of the 2009 tournament – the Spaniard’s only defeat at Roland Garros (it later became known that Nadal was troubled by problems in his parents’ marriage).

Believe in yourself. “You can’t show any mental weakness against Nadal – you have to believe you can win, and also show that you believe you can win,” Mats Wilander has said. Or perhaps the best approach is not to think about it too much. As Soderling said after beating Nadal three years ago: “I told myself that it was just another match. I was just playing as if it was a training session. It was only when I was two or three points away that I started to believe.”