The 2019 Rafa Serve

technical analysis Jan 26, 2019

By George Vogiatzis

Having won 17 Grand Slam singles titles, 33 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles, 20 ATP World Tour 500 tournaments and the 2008 Olympic Gold Medal, it is easy to see how Rafael Nadal is considered one of the greatest players the game has ever seen.

His aggressive game style boasts weapons that make the Spaniard seemingly impossible to beat  and at the age of 32 he continues to refine and evolve, creating a more fierce and attacking game than ever before. After a knee injury ended his 2018 season in September, Nadal and his team used the time between the US Open and this year’s Australian Open to rest his body and further develop his game.

Under the guidance of his new coach, Carlos Moya, it seems Nadal has specifically zoned in on the quality of his serve and return game, with an objective to increase the pressure and dominance within the first four balls of the point.

As the latest data shows , 70% of points are currently ending within the first four shots – two shots per player. By improving the serve and return, Nadal subsequently increases his winning percentage within the most critical phase of any point (Craig O’Shannessy – The Brain Game Tennis)

Below, we have created an analysis of Nadal’s technical changes in the serve to gain an understanding of how this has impacted his performance at this year’s Australian Open


One of the big changes made by Nadal and his team starts with the initial weight shift to the back leg and the initial preparation of his swing.

Notice that in the new preparation phase, Nadal synchronises the start of his racquet’s motion with the shift of his weight onto the back leg. This is quite significant as we move into the next phases of this analysis and will heavily impact overall fluidity and momentum of the serve.


Without getting technical with the biomechanics of a serve, the important thing to understand here is that the greatest amount of force in a serve comes from the load and drive of the back leg. This force creates power up through the hips, trunk, shoulders, arms, racquet which then impacts through the ball.

Nadal’s biggest improvement in the serve is that he now stays on the back leg as the ball lifts into the toss. This allows for him to create greater back leg load and a better overall serve rhythm as the racquet moves back together with the weight of his body. Keep in mind however, that it is the change in the first phase that allows him to be able to do this at all.

In comparison, watch Nadal’s old serve as he shifts his weight forward before he releases the ball into the toss, while the racquet moves in the opposite direction. This technique creates a disassociation between the racquet’s motion and the momentum of the body and ultimately sacrifices power in the end result.


As Nadal uses a pinpoint serving stance (feet come together) he eventually needs to shift his weight and back foot forward before coming into the “trophy position” and driving up into contact. Again, the key to doing this well is to keep the momentum of the body and racquet moving together! This ensures that power is not lost within the motion by stopping or pausing.

Due to the mechanics of the old serve, Nadal was coming onto the front leg too early creating a a pause and hindering his ability to maximise the amount of force he could generate as he then has to drive predominantly from the front leg. Additionally, his new motion has resulted in achieving a much stronger “trophy position” allowing the body to be better set before driving up to contact.


From here, both serves have visibly similar characteristics. The drive from the ground accelerates the body upwards to create power in the hips, trunk, shoulders and arms, contact is made above the head and both finish in a strong “arabesque” position on the right leg. However, as mentioned,  the new serve creates greater force through the body and therefore generates more power through the ball.

So what are the main things that Nadal improved?

  1. Greater back leg load
  2. Adjusted swing line
  3. Improved rhythm and momentum



At the highest level a 1% improvement can mean a significant advantage over opponents.

By improving his serve in the above areas, Nadal has become more effective within the first four shots of the point. He is hitting the serve bigger, creating more opportunities to use his forehand and dictates the point early, making it very hard for opponents to take control of the point.

2017 – 179KM/HR 2017 – 152KM/HR
2018 – 180KM/HR 2018 – 151KM/HR
2019 – 189KM/HR 2019 – 158KM/HR
2017 – 69% 2017 – 72%
2018 – 68% 2018 – 71%
2019 – 74% 2019 – 81%

Nadal’s improvements have changed his game for the better, which has been showcased during the 2019 Australian Open. The Spaniard now finds himself in the Men’s Finals tomorrow night against World Number 1, Novak Djokovic. Having won every match in straight sets, Nadal is gearing up to lock down his 18th Grand Slam Title and to put a dent in Djokovic’s 6-0 Australian Open final winning record.


  1. Keep your motion as smooth as possible, it’s all about great timing and fluent motions!
  2. Power comes from the ground-up, so make sure you’re using the legs to drive up into contact!
  3. Practice the first ball after the serve – use your weapons early to put the pressure on!


Do you think these improvements can get him over line?