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AO Analyst: Nadal v Estrella Burgos

  • Craig O'Shannessey

Your eyes deceive you.

You see Rafael Nadal as the king of the long rallies. You see him running side to side, ripping heavy topspin groundstrokes as he punishes opponents with his unlimited shot tolerance. Your eyes fixate on rallies that seem to go on for an eternity. 

The reality of Nadal’s matches is basically the exact opposite. 

The 31-year-old top seed takes on 37 year-old Victor Estrella Burgos on Rod Laver Arena on Monday evening, and you will walk away remembering all the lactic acid-generating long points that will surely be a part of the match landscape.

But consider these numbers from the 2017 Australian Open.


Australian Open 2017 rally length
Rally length Tournament average Rafael Nadal (7 matches)
0-4 shots 68% 62%
5-8 shots 21% 23%
9+ shots 11% 14%


The long rallies may capture your attention, but they accounted for just 14 per cent of Nadal’s points last year. 

North of six out of every 10 rallies that Nadal plays has a maximum of just two shots hit by the Spaniard. It’s the short rallies where he gets the job done. It’s the short rallies that pay the bills. When these two gladiators battle tonight, don’t be dismissive of the short rallies. Whoever wins this battle will surely move through to the second round. 

Estrella Burgos will be looking to hit as many forehands as possible to try and upset the No. 1 this evening. When Estrella Burgos lost to Daniel Brands at the 2016 Australian Open, he hit 15 forehand winners, and just one off the backhand wing. 

As a counter, Nadal will be looking to match his lethal, heavy-spin forehand against the one-handed backhand of Estrella Burgos. This one specific Ad court match-up will be the key to who controls the baseline.

This match will surely last a few hours, but if Estrella Burgos does not win the opening set, then his chances of coming back and winning in four or five sets are very, very low against the world No.1. In fact, it’s in the five per cent range. 

Winning Match After Winning 1st Set

  • Nadal = 95% (768-43)
  • Estrella Burgos = 85% (60-11)

Winning Match After Losing 1st Set

  • Nadal = 43% (105-142)
  • Estrella Burgos = 26% (22-62)

Estrella Burgos has got to go into the “lion’s den” and go after Nadal’s forehand to gain a foothold from the back of the court. Rafael Nadal is left-handed, so he naturally hits forehands standing in the Ad court. But he actually hits more forehand winners and  makes less forehand errors when he hits forehands standing in the Deuce court. Estrella Burgos would be wise to attack Nadal wide in the Ad court first. 

Nadal’s resurgence back to No. 1 has been built more about an improved serve than return. The Spaniard finished first on the ATP tour with second serve points won in 2017 at 61.5 per cent  (1076/1749), which was his personal best in this area since emerging on tour in 2003. It was an impressive improvement, especially considering he won a career low (tied with 2004) 54 per cent in 2016.

This shapes to be an ideal hit-out for the Spaniard, facing an opponent who can’t really hurt him from the back of the court.

PREDICTION: Rafael Nadal in 3 sets.