When Rafael Nadal won the Australian Open in 2009, he reached the semifinals without dropping a set. Once there, he met compatriot Fernando Verdasco, the fellow southpaw at the height of his powers, who pushed him for five sets and five hours before he finally prevailed.
A decade on, the 17-time Grand Slam champion has booked his spot in a fifth Australian Open final without dropping a single set, backed by a first-strike strategy designed to keep points short behind his revamped, more powerful serve.
The results are nothing short of staggering. Of Nadal’s 197 winners at this Australian Open so far, 100 have come from the forehand. Another 39 have been aces. Of the 567 points he has won, 391 have been in four shots or less, with an average rally length of 3.73.
It’s been ruthless. It’s been relentless. But don’t call this aggressive charge a revolution, says the Spaniard.
“I was aggressive because I am playing well, no?” Nadal insisted after his 6-2 6-4 6-0 demolition of Stefanos Tsitsipas, the 20-year-old first-time Grand Slam semifinalist who was left bereft of ideas in the face of a merciless masterclass from the Mallorcan on Thursday.
“It’s nothing new that I am aggressive. The problem with myself is, because I had a lot of success on clay, people probably think I am not aggressive. I really believe that people who think that are completely wrong.
“Of course, I am not doing serve and volley. I am not hitting winners every ball. But I play all the shots with a goal. There is no better way to be aggressive than hit every shot with the goal to create damage on the opponent. That has been my goal during all my career.