He may have marched into the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, but Rafael Nadal’s dipping first serve percentage could be a cause for concern going into the business end of the tournament.
On the face of it, the 20-time Grand Slam champion did not look to be in too much trouble as he made light work of feisty Italian Fabio Fognini to close out a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win.
However, a glaring statistic that stood out in his fourth-round victory was his overall first-serve percentage.
Rafael Nadal had pulled out of ATP Cup with back spasms
At just 60%, the Spaniard’s percentage of first serves in the entire match was significantly lower from his career reading of 68%.
Nadal had earlier withdrawn from Spain’s ATP Cup campaign with back spasms, making himself an injury doubt for the Australian Open.
While he made a good enough recovery since then to play the year’s first Major, his back could well be playing on his mind and restricting him from putting his whole body into his first serve.
While there is no word of clarity yet on whether Nadal’s back is in fine fettle or he is still feeling the pain that forced him to pull out of the men’s team event.
Rafael Nadal will play Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Australian Open QF
It doesn’t seem to have hurt him in the matches so far, but in high-pressure matches, at the tournament’s business-end his serve will be put through sterner tests.
The Spaniard seemed to be taking longer than usual to warm himself into the contest on Monday and though he won the opening set by a comfortable margin, his percentage of first serves was down alarmingly to 42%.
Though he improved on his first serve as the match wore on, the Spaniard still fell far short of his career reading on that score.
Stefanos Tsitsipas, his opponent in the quarter-finals, is not only a big server but also someone who likes to put pressure on his rival’s serve early in the contest.
Hence, Nadal’s unflattering first-serve percentage in the Fognini clash wouldn’t have escaped the Greek’s notice and will be a chink that he would look to exploit in the quarter-final showdown on Wednesday.