Providing a clinic in the art of the comeback, Rafael Nadal collected his 600th career win and record-extending 22nd Masters title in Indian Wells on Sunday. The 11-time Grand Slam champion is continuing his educational efforts with a personalized approach—he’s prepared to coach you with a new instructional app.
The new Rafael Nadal Tennis Academy app features in-depth video tutorials of Nadal’s strokes, including insight from Rafa on keys to executing his shots. Video of each stroke is presented in both front and side views, with each tutorial ranging from about 90 seconds to about two minutes. Currently, there are nine Nadal tutorials focusing primarily on his serve, return and forehand; there are plans to introduce more videos in the coming weeks.
The app, produced by Vstrator, a Raleigh, N.C.-based video analysis technology company, is available in both English and Spanish. It retails for $4.99 on iTunes and enables players to use the technology on court through mobile devices, transforming tennis instruction into an interactive experience.
Using a smartphone or iPad camera, you can capture and upload video of your strokes to see a side-by-side comparison with Nadal’s shots, use the Vstrator drawing technology to highlight your technique, then share the clip with coaches, friends, and fellow players through Facebook, Twitter, or email for their input.
The Vstrator video team traveled to Mallorca last September to shoot video of Nadal. Designers hope that the app's affordability—it costs a bit more than a can of tennis balls—will take video instruction technology to the masses.
“What I like of this app is that you can be on the courts down the street, at your school or tennis facility, with your friends, coach, and teammates and get the info and coaching necessary from my point of view,” Nadal said.
The app unites the former singles No. 1 with former top-ranked doubles player and two-time Wimbledon doubles champion Don Johnson, who was an early proponent of video analysis during his playing days on the ATP tour, and is now a Vstrator operating partner.
“I used to carry a video camera around with me on the ATP tour and then go back and study the video, but it was kind of cumbersome to use and not many players were doing it then,” said Johnson, who won the 2000 Wimbledon mixed doubles title with Kimberly Po and the 2001 Wimbledon doubles championship with Jared Palmer. “This app gives you the ability to take your video and share it through social media to get instant feedback. So if you’re a junior or pro player you can share the video with your coach for instruction, or if you’re a recreational player you can share it with anyone who has good tennis knowledge—it could be the local pro or the dad who played high school tennis or the friend who is an advanced player—and you can get that feedback while you’re still on the court and apply it immediately.”
Coaches are increasingly using video technology to build better tennis players. The USTA has partnered with Dartfish, a Windows-based software program producer, in using video-tagging technology to analyze tactical tendencies of its elite junior and pro players.
“Video is the new wave of technology hitting the sport,” Johnson said. “One study shows kids have 33 percent more retention from video, so I think the younger generation will get a lot better—and their technique will improve much faster—using this technology because you see exactly what you’re doing in each stroke, and can then compare it to Rafa as the model.”
Johnson was in the desert last week to watch Nadal win his third career Indian Wells title, and says the seven-time French Open’s success since returning from a seven-month sabbatical due to a knee injury has built buzz for the app. Look for something new to be released in time for the spring clay-court season.
"We have an update coming soon that will cost [an additional] 99 cents and will allow users to flip the video and turn Rafa from a lefty to a righty, so right-handers can emulate him more easily," Johnson said. "You'll be able to zoom in on his strokes and people will be able to purchase the next set of Rafa's strokes for the app."
How effective is the app in sharpening strokes? We'll take it to the court for a play test in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.