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Rafa’s Rituals: So Much To Do Before He Will Play

Rafael Nadal and his match rituals

Everything Else Tennis

Rafa’s Rituals: So Much To Do Before He Will Play

It’s no secret that tennis players are creatures of habit, and IMO Rafael Nadal is probably the most infamous of all. While he openly discusses most of his eccentric match rituals, his behavior never fails to baffle (and irritate) the fans.

Just what drives this madness?

It’s easy to dismiss his behavior as superstition, or to simply assume he suffers from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), but Rafa has his own explanation:

Some call it superstition, but it’s not. If it were superstition, why would I keep doing the same thing over and over whether I win or lose? It’s a way of placing myself in a match, ordering my surroundings to match the order I seek in my head.

Here is a breakdown of his surprisingly numerous habits:


The Spaniard’s headband is not put on until just before he walks onto the court. His socks can never be more than 15 cm up his shins, and they must sit at the same height with the sponsor’s logo parallel to the ground.

The Coin Toss

Nadal will remain seated until his opponent has gone to the umpire – he will always be the last to the net. During the toss he jog in place and jumps up and down, and afterward he sprints to the baseline.

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At Changeovers

Two water bottles (one chilled, one not) are positioned on the floor in front of the chair Nadal is sitting on during breaks. Every time the players change ends, the bottles are lined up so the labels face the baseline of the side he is playing. As they are repositioned he takes a sip from both – without fail. Nadal will also place his towel on his chair with the racket on top, its handle pointing top left and the head bottom right. When walking as he changes ends of the court, using his towel or preparing for the next point, Nadal avoids walking on all lines.

When Serving

He will always have three balls to decide from before he positions himself to serve. If he has a ball in his pocket he will only take two balls from the same ball boy or girl – not one from each. Before he serves he will, without fail, clip the floor behind him with the tip of his foot, pick his shorts out of his butt, then pluck up his shirt at the shoulders (first the left then the right), and finally tuck his hair first behind his left ear then his right, with a nose wipe in between.

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When Receiving

He follows the same footwork sequence between every point. As he positions himself on the baseline his right foot steps across to the left, the left goes back and the right then returns to its starting point. And once again, he’ll pick his shorts out of his butt, pluck up his shirt at the shoulders (first the left then the right) and tuck his hair first behind his left ear then his right, with a nose wipe in between.

Between Points

When he uses his towel, he follows the same wiping routine. First the left arm, then the left cheek and behind the ear, then the right cheek and behind the ear, ending with the right arm.

We-ell…. He IS the number one male tennis player in the world, so I guess it works. But if I were him, I’d eliminate (or at least replace) digging in my shorts before every serve. That one is just plain nasty :P

4.5 USTA rated/open champion level tennis player, vegan, fitness freak, animal lover, and smart ass who firmly believes that champagne is anathema for all ills. Right now I'm either up to my eyeballs in paint swatches and fabric samples, or kicking some butt on a tennis court (hopefully the latter).

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