'Rafael Nadal's got one of the worst backhands on tour' - Novak Djokovic's advice to Devvarman

Rafael Nadal hitting a backhand

In a live video chat on Instagram, Somdev Devvarman looked back at the best match of his career - against Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of the 2011 BNP Paribas Open. The Indian tennis star, who is good friends with Novak Djokovic, recalled how he was given a pep talk by the Serb ahead of that match and advised to target Rafael Nadal's backhand.

Somdev Devvarman, who retired from tennis in 2017, spoke at length with anchor Navneeth Krishna on the show 'Host the Host'. The former World No. 62 revealed many interesting tidbits about the Big 4 during the chat, having spent a lot of time in close proximity with the famed quartet.

Devvarman had quite an eventful career, where he got several opportunities to go up against the best in the business. Although none of his meetings with any of the Big 4 - Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray - ended in victory, Devvarman did show impressive spirit in some of those matches.

Somdev Devvarman and Novak Djokovic

Looking back, Devvarman said the Big 4 - he made it a point to include Andy Murray in the group - completely separated themselves from the rest. The 35-year-old then declared that his lone encounter with Rafael Nadal was the most memorable of his career, mainly because of how well he himself played in that match.

Somdev Devvarman remembered being fully aware of his hopeless odds heading into the contest, and how he was desperately trying to decide the right tactics to combat the intimidating skills of Nadal (who was the then reigning World No. 1). But just as he was doing his pre-match stretches, Novak Djokovic came up to him with some last-minute advice.

Novak Djokovic believed Somdev Devvarman could beat Rafael Nadal

Somdev Devvarman was enjoying a particularly good spell of tennis during that period. He had made it to the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open for the first time, defeating Marcos Baghdatis en route.

Devvarman had a fair bit of confidence under his belt, and Novak Djokovic added to that with some strong words of encouragement.

"You know you can win this match, right?" Novak Djokovic had said. "Just to let you know, he's (Nadal) got one of the worst backhands on the tour."
Somdev Devvarman with Rafael Nadal after the match

Somdev Devvarman was a little taken aback by Djokovic's frank comment at first, knowing full well that Nadal didn't have a lot of weaknesses. But the Indian took note of the suggestion and entered the match with a new strategy in his mind.

"I went in and obviously I had to play more towards the backhand than the forehand...and I think, you know, I played really well, lost 7-5, 6-4," Somdev Devvarman said.

Rafael Nadal has always been known for the destructive power of his forehand, but most experts agree that his backhand is not bad either. What Devvarman realized at that moment is how closely the Big 3 look at each other's games, and how they go all out in trying to exploit even the smallest of weaknesses.

The backhand of the 12-time French Open champion is an asset in most of his matches, but when Novak Djokovic goes up against it, it becomes 'one of the worst backhands on tour'. Djokovic is so confident in his ability to break down the Nadal backhand that he refuses to look at it as anything but a liability to be taken advantage of.

"It gave me an insight into how the great guys think," Devvarman said. "When Novak goes out and plays Rafa, I think a part of him believes that he actually has a really bad backhand and he can actually beat him by, you know, covering that side."

Published 26 May 2020, 02:54 IST