Ruthless Nadal serves up game-changer
Of all the elite players, Rafael Nadal has resisted change more stubbornly than most.
With 17 major trophies salted away in Manacor, the Spaniard has fewer reasons than only Roger Federer to tinker with his game.
Incessantly superstitious, Nadal is grand slam tennis' ultimate creature of habit.
His fixations with avoiding court lines and the placement of bottles are just a few of his quirks.
Yet, at 32, Nadal's thirst for success knows no bounds.
Just as Federer submitted to using a larger racquet late in his career, Nadal is similarly unafraid to experiment.
The motivation to modify a service motion which has delivered 80 titles, more than $100million in prizemoney and the unqualified respect of the locker-room is due to nothing else than ambition.
Having withdrawn from Brisbane and with only a brief Fast Four outing in Sydney to build confidence in his revamped serve, Nadal's resolve might have weakened.
Not a chance.
Pitted against net-rushing James Duckworth, Nadal didn't flinch.
The smoother action authored by coaches Carlos Moya and Francisco Roig features a number of subtle changes.
Broken down, there is more pop on a sometimes apologetic offering with Nadal's fastest serve registering 204km.
The sum result against the admirable Duckworth was a largely untroubled serving performance with six aces, only two double faults with a 74 percent strike rate on the first ball.
The two service breaks he conceded were not due to the first serve, he insisted post-match.
With 38 winners and a mere 11 unforced errors off the ground, Nadal is clearly in the groove - not that the Mallorcan is often out of his comfort zone on the baseline.
Volleying remains the most under-rated facet of Nadal's game, while the serve has been occasionally problematic.
Duckworth's return from injury hell to the biggest stage in Australian tennis was crammed with merit.
The Sydneysider bulldozed his way into the tournament via Tennis Australia's wildcard play-off.
The improvement he has made since topping Luke Saville in December's final was staggering.
Realising he couldn't stay with Nadal from the baseline, Duckworth marauded forward at every opportunity.
His bravery was punished and rewarded in equal measure against a man with goals deep into the second week.