One Slam title, two slam finals, a masters title, a comfortable top two finish for the 7th straight year, and yet 2011 was quite a tough year to swallow for Nadal and his fans. After the countless losses to Djokovic in the first half of the season followed by injury and defeats to just about every man and his dog in the second half, he finally made the decision to switch things up and try out a new racket in the off-season.
“My preparation is not the perfect one, and I’m trying to play with a little bit heavier racket, to get a little bit more power,” Nadal said. “(With the new racket) I’m losing a little bit of control now, sometimes I don’t feel the forehand as good as before. But it’s something that I believe can help me in the future. After the Davis Cup final I had all the rackets prepared at home to change. In theory I’m supposed to practice almost a month or at least three weeks with the (new) racket, but finally I practiced only one week, and I’m here now, so probably it’s not good enough.
“You can’t think that everything will be perfect from the beginning, but you make the change thinking it’ll be better in the future. There’s no magic, but the new racket can help a little bit to improve my game. It’s a risk I’m taking at the beginning of the season.”
What I have always admired more than anything about Nadal is his ever-present willingness to make adjustments and improvements his game. While enjoying such an illustrious and legendary career as his, it must be so easy to refuse to change what, for the most part, has been a winning formular over the year.
But that’s not how Rafael Nadal’s mind works, and while Federer is still putting himself at a disadvantage by competing with his 967,532 year-old racket frame (one that the dinosaurs probably would have turned their noses up at), Nadal is forever looking to improve even the tiniest and least important mechanics of his game. We only have to look back to the 2010 US Open and at the completely reckless adjustment to his serve on the eve of the tournament. In retrospect, the likelihood is that he would still be chasing the Career Grand Slam had he not taken that risk.
As for this specific racket change, we’ll soon see whether or not it pays dividends. But one thing’s for sure, Nadal creates easily more racket head speed than just about any other player in the history. The new racket isn’t going to single-handedly catapult him out of Djokovic’s shadow again - trusting himself to hit through the ball, and to do so in the tight and important moments, will. We’ll see.