Originally Posted by Just like heaven
He hits like that in practice, but during the matches his forehand changes completely.
When his normal game isn't working I wish he could try that but I don't think he feels confident playing like that.
Nadal isn't hitting flat forehands there, not even close. Those are standard strokes for him, obviously he's far more relaxed like everyone is in training.
And Sayna, Stepanek still has top spin on his shots. All players do. Flat is a relative term. Even the likes of Connors and McEnroe would have that slight top spin on some of their shots (Not always, and in some instances more than others, obviously), but those guys are just about as close as you can get to hitting the ball completely flat, as they did do most of the time.
Hitting the ball flatter takes more feel for the ball and is much harder to control obviously, in the modern game of consistency and defence, it just doesn't fit in with the very elite, though flat shots are the kind of shots where you'd find the most success if you were having a good day. In other words, players don't want to take the risk and as they have great fitness and defence, they're happy enough to rely on these attributes as there's also a chance to win the point attacking with a higher percentage play, using much more topspin but far less deadly and less of an instantaneous impact.
That's why I loved watching players like Agassi, Kafelnikov and Safin. Agassi really more impressive than the other two because he was far shorter and his ideal strike-zone was well below the height of the net. There's few things more impressive to me than seeing someone time their flat, powerful groundstrokes from the back of the back of the court as well as James Blake did the other night against Granollers for example.
As for Nadal, you often hear of how more aggressive he is these days and how he's not standing so far back behind the baseline. Well, I think that people have kind of forgot how he used to play and really fire off the forehand wing. Yes, he certainly does stand closer to the baseline today in most matches and during recent times, though fewer than most imagine, has he really improved his backhand significantly since 2005. Yes, even during his worst times, he can hit a powerful, flat backhand cross court winner whilst on the run out wide on the deuce court, but he also did that with probably even more regularity during his prime simply because he got himself so far back that the opportunity arose frequently. I think small moments like this in big matches cloud peoples memory.
I do believe Nadal's best years with the forehand were from 2005-2008. It's pretty impossible to say when it was at its finest. His backhand and court positioning was better in 2008, and the serve marginally, but that's all, there wasn't massive improvements, just better tactics and decision making on the whole and lots of them at that, as well as experience. If Nadal could find a blend between how he struck his forehand in his earlier years to how he has learned to move closer to the baseline, it would be the deadliest shot in the game at the moment, with Federer's forehand not what it once was. The reason why it wasn't as effective as it should have been 7 years ago was because of his Gasquet-like court positioning.
Nadal often talks of wanting to find new ways to improve and he has done so over the years with various small changes that have made the difference in the most crucial of matches but I can't see him flattening out the ball and being more aggressive with the ball with less spin. I'd call this a drastic physical change, unlike the other changes he's made over the years and I can't see it happening. He's winning too many matches with his current style of play.