It's May and therefore it should come as no surprise that Rafael Nadal is back to his dominant ways on the European clay.
The Spanish star was tremendous in his second-round win over Benoit Paire at the 2013 Madrid Open on Wednesday, beating the 37th-ranked Frenchman for the second time in as many weeks, 6-3, 6-4.
ATP World Tour @ATPWorldTour
Two-time @MutuaMadridOpen champ @RafaelNadal opens campaign with a 63 64 win over @benoitpaire. #atp #tennis2013-5-8 14:58:36
So, what did we learn from Rafa's opening match win in Madrid?
Let's take a look.
Nadal Is More Focused Than Ever
Despite big-time favorites like Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka already having been knocked out of the Madrid Open, Rafa Nadal is approaching this tournament with a laser-like focus based on what we witnessed on Wednesday.
Nadal was remarkably sharp in his second-round win over Benoit Paire, recording zero double faults and allowing Paire just one break-point opportunity, ultimately saving it to win the service game.
Rafa will struggle to record such impressive numbers as the competition improves this week, but Nadal fans have to be encouraged with how strong he looks early on.
The focus is clearly there and the numbers prove it.
Controlling Second-Serve Return Points
A big key to being successful at the professional level is capitalizing on second-serve return points, and Rafa did that to near perfection in his win over Paire.
Nadal won 54 percent (19-of-35) of his second-serve return points in the second round, making Paire pay for his poor first serves. Oddly enough, Rafa is converting on 54 percent of his second-serve return points on clay this season overall.
These numbers bode extremely well for the 11-time Grand Slam champion as he progresses through the men's draw in Madrid.
Nadal is almost a lock to win his service games on the red clay, and if he's controlling second-serve return points he becomes a point-winning machine.
Rafa's Serve Is Heating Up
Nadal's serve has never been the strongest aspect of his game, but on clay his ability to consistently put solid serves into the box and win his service games makes him virtually unbeatable on the challenging surface.
Rafa won 74 percent (44-of-59) of his service points against Paire in the second round in Madrid, winning an impressive 9-of-12 second-serve points, where his opponent was anticipating a slower, more cautious serve.
Nadal only recorded three aces in the win, but he doesn't need to earn easy points in order to win. Once he puts the ball in play, gets his opponent on their heels and starts whipping that heavy topspin forehand, advantage Rafa.
Nadal is never going to wow tennis fans with his serve, but on clay he's consistent and versatile enough with his serve to put opponents like Paire on the defensive early on.
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