Rafa Impressive On Return!

The-Champ

Legend
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal proved to be the most dangerous player to serve against in 2008, topping three of the four returning categories in the year-end Ricoh ATP MatchFacts.

The 22-year-old Spaniard, who compiled a circuit-best 82-11 record and eight titles, led the circuit in points won returning first serve, points won returning second serve and return games won. He also finished No. 3 in break points converted, behind Novak Djokovic and David Nalbandian.

It marked the second straight season Nadal finished at No. 1 in points won returning on first serve, but he improved his standing in the other three – categories which his countryman David Ferrer had led in 2007. Nadal moved up one spot in return games won, three spots in second serve returns and made his entry into to Top 10 in break points converted.

DEUCE Magazine - Nadal: Making History In A Hurry

Nadal also finished in the Top 10 in four of the six service game categories: No. 1 in second serve points won, No. 2 in first serve percentage, No. 4 in service games won and No. 5 in break points saved.

Russian Nikolay Davydenko’s return game was as solid as Nadal’s this past season, as he finished at No. 2 behind the Spaniard in the three categories and at No. 7 in break points converted. The World No. 5 won three titles in five finals this year, including at ATP Masters Series Miami where he converted on four of his six break point chances to defeat Nadal in the final.

Djokovic and 20-year-old Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, whom each collected four titles this season, joined Ferrer as other players to finish in the Top 10 of all four return categories.


Points Won Returning 1st Serve
Player % Matches
1 Rafael Nadal 34 90
2 Nikolay Davydenko 34 72
3T Andy Murray 33 72
3T Fernando Verdasco 33 72
5 David Ferrer 33 64

Points Won Returning 2nd Serve
Player % Matches
1 Rafael Nadal 55 90
2 Nikolay Davydenko 55 72
3 Andy Murray 54 72
4 David Ferrer 54 64
5 Juan Martin del Potro 54 59

Break Points Converted
Player % Matches
1 Novak Djokovic 47 79
2 David Nalbandian 46 54
3 Rafael Nadal 45 90
4 Fernando Verdasco 45 72
5 Juan Martin del Potro 45 59

Return Games Won
Player % Matches
1 Rafael Nadal 33 90
2 Nikolay Davydenko 32 72
3 Juan Martin del Potro 32 59
4 Novak Djokovic 30 79
5 Juan Monaco 30 47

http://www.atptennis.com/1/en/2008news/return_leaders.asp

These figures are interesting because I honestly expect Federer to be at least in the top 5 on returns. He is a great returner, and could break everyone's serve whenever he feels like doing it. Even though I dislike Federer I must admit, he reads serves slightly better than Rafa. Your thoughts?
 

GameSampras

Banned
Fed's decline in movement is a probable cause of this. Possibly his reaction time as well. Both can intertwine I suppose. Im sure Fed would have difficulty dealing with Roddick's serve these days as well. We saw what Karlovic did to him this past year.
 

Cenc

Hall of Fame
his return isnt impresive
he just gets the ball back into play and then wins most of the rallies
against good serve and volleyer he would have a LOT of problems
btw, he couldnt break karlović in 3 sets
67 76 76
 

RF007

Rookie
his return isnt impresive
he just gets the ball back into play and then wins most of the rallies
against good serve and volleyer he would have a LOT of problems
btw, he couldnt break karlović in 3 sets
67 76 76
I think you're referring to 2 different players here.
Fed - unimpressive return...
Nadal - couldn't break Karlovic in 3 sets (Queen's QF, but he still won), Federer broke Karlovic in Cincy in the 2nd set but still lost without being broken
 

cucio

Legend
his return isnt impresive
he just gets the ball back into play and then wins most of the rallies
against good serve and volleyer he would have a LOT of problems
btw, he couldnt break karlović in 3 sets
67 76 76
Yup, I admire Nalbandian's return better, or Murray's, or 2007 Ferrer's. Indeed there are more to those stats than just the return of serve: as you say, once the rally is on Nadal is a tough nut to crack. Yet those same stats tell us that Rafa gives away fewer free points on return than most.

Not so sure about the S&V stuff, after all Nadal is Mr. Passing Shot. We will always wonder what would have happened if a Becker, Edberg or Sampras was active today. For what is worth Nadal is 2-0 vs Karlovic, 4-0 vs Stepanek, 3-1 vs Ancic, 2-0 vs. Mirnyi... so he pretty much owns the best S&V has to offer nowadays in all kind of surfaces. It is true that racquet technology goes against S&V, so again this doesn't say much. My guess is he would have a similar record to Agassi (10-4 vs Becker, 6-3 vs Edberg, 14-20 vs Sampras,) but that is pure speculation, of course, it is just a hunch I won't bother arguing about.

About Ivo's match, Nadal had 2 unconverted BPs, took two TBs off Mr. TB himself, and gave away the first with a DF (not saying that Ivo wouldn't have won that particular TB anyway, but you don't give away free points to Karlovic during a TB.) An OK show, I would say, given it was slick grass.

But yup, those stats don't say Nadal is the best returner. That would be Nalbo IMO. They say he is the best combination of returner and rallier.
 

Cenc

Hall of Fame
I think you're referring to 2 different players here.
Fed - unimpressive return...
Nadal - couldn't break Karlovic in 3 sets (Queen's QF, but he still won), Federer broke Karlovic in Cincy in the 2nd set but still lost without being broken
sry i dont get it
 

edmondsm

Legend
Nadal returns alot like Federer did when he was #1; just getting to neutral on the return and then out rallying your opponent.
 

P_Agony

Banned
Federer's return in his peak was better than Nadal's current one. Federer also used to save break points really, really well. Those are two qualities that Federer lost during the 2008 season, and he really needs them. He also must improve his BPs convertion success, he had like 2 billion of those at the Wimbeldon and converted just one during the whole match.
 

edmondsm

Legend
Federer's return in his peak was better than Nadal's current one. Federer also used to save break points really, really well. Those are two qualities that Federer lost during the 2008 season, and he really needs them. He also must improve his BPs convertion success, he had like 2 billion of those at the Wimbeldon and converted just one during the whole match.
And he might have won the 07' French Open if he would have converted like, I don't know, half his BP oppurtunities.
 

P_Agony

Banned
And he might have won the 07' French Open if he would have converted like, I don't know, half his BP oppurtunities.
It's weird because Federer used to be the master of converting his oppurtunities, whether a BP, a good return, or just playing the important points realy, really well.
 

edmondsm

Legend
^^The match was alot closer then the scoreline indicates. Federer was winning many points in the Nadal service games, but not any of the big ones.
 

rubberduckies

Professional
It's weird because Federer used to be the master of converting his oppurtunities, whether a BP, a good return, or just playing the important points realy, really well.
Revisionist history right here. It's easy to say that Fed at his best was way better than Rafa right now without having to deal with any stats or facts. I bet if I had you guys to rank the top returners today, many of you would put Fed at the top.
 

NamRanger

G.O.A.T.
^^The match was alot closer then the scoreline indicates. Federer was winning many points in the Nadal service games, but not any of the big ones.

Federer was up 0-30 in most of Nadal's service games. Federer tried to play safe when he got up, but Nadal took it to him.
 

edberg505

Legend
Revisionist history right here. It's easy to say that Fed at his best was way better than Rafa right now without having to deal with any stats or facts. I bet if I had you guys to rank the top returners today, many of you would put Fed at the top.
There's no doubt that Andy Murray has arguably the best return of serve in the game at the moment. I do think that Federer has the uncanny ability to read big serves and most likely has the least amount of aces hit against him of any one on tour.
 

Nadal_Freak

Banned
There's no doubt that Andy Murray has arguably the best return of serve in the game at the moment. I do think that Federer has the uncanny ability to read big serves and most likely has the least amount of aces hit against him of any one on tour.
And yet Nadal is on top. So much for what you think and what is reality. ;)
 

edberg505

Legend
And yet Nadal is on top. So much for what you think and what is reality. ;)
Ok how about this chuckles. If Ivo Karlovic were to play one service game each against Nadal and Murray who do you think would get aced the most? Before you answer that go and have a look at that insanely boring serve fest when Nadal played Ivo in Queen's and then look at the awesome display of returning Murray did against Ivo in Cinn. Then what you want to do is go and take a look at the stats and then you do the math buddy. Have a great day chuckles.
 

Nadal_Freak

Banned
Ok how about this chuckles. If Ivo Karlovic were to play one service game each against Nadal and Murray who do you think would get aced the most? Before you answer that go and have a look at that insanely boring serve fest when Nadal played Ivo in Queen's and then look at the awesome display of returning Murray did against Ivo in Cinn. Then what you want to do is go and take a look at the stats and then you do the math buddy. Have a great day chuckles.
Against the general player, Nadal is the better returner. Nadal did break Roddick twice in Queens. Murray likes playing the big bombers but Nadal is still the best returner overall.
 

edberg505

Legend
Against the general player, Nadal is the better returner. Nadal did break Roddick twice in Queens. Murray likes playing the big bombers but Nadal is still the best returner overall.
Roddick? Gimme a break. That's nothing spectacular When was the last time Roddick beat Murray? Roddick is Murray's whipping boy. And I'm guessing you didn't look at the percentages like I told you. Murray was right up there with Nadal. The only thing that made a differece is the number of Matches played. But of course I wouldn't expect you to objective and so your response is hardly surprising.
 

Nadal_Freak

Banned
Roddick? Gimme a break. That's nothing spectacular When was the last time Roddick beat Murray? Roddick is Murray's whipping boy. And I'm guessing you didn't look at the percentages like I told you. Murray was right up there with Nadal. The only thing that made a differece is the number of Matches played. But of course I wouldn't expect you to objective and so your response is hardly surprising.
If Murray was as good as Nadal at returning, he would be the number 1 player. It's his serve that has made the difference for him this year. There are different ways of returning on different surfaces. The stats take account all surfaces. Not just hard. It is possible that Murray is the better returner on hardcourts but is not close on clay or grass.
 

NamRanger

G.O.A.T.
Roddick? Gimme a break. That's nothing spectacular When was the last time Roddick beat Murray? Roddick is Murray's whipping boy. And I'm guessing you didn't look at the percentages like I told you. Murray was right up there with Nadal. The only thing that made a differece is the number of Matches played. But of course I wouldn't expect you to objective and so your response is hardly surprising.

Don't worry, soon you'll be hearing that Nadal was a better returner than Connors and Agassi.
 

Nadal_Freak

Banned
Don't worry, soon you'll be hearing that Nadal was a better returner than Connors and Agassi.
No I just said Nadal is the better overall returner vs. Murray. It could change and Murray could become number 1 in the world. Than the stats would follow suit with these claims.
 

edberg505

Legend
No I just said Nadal is the better overall returner vs. Murray. It could change and Murray could become number 1 in the world. Than the stats would follow suit with these claims.
Ah, I see so by your rationale Nadal has the best serve in the game too since he's number 1.
 

Nadal_Freak

Banned
Ah, I see so by your rationale Nadal has the best serve in the game too since he's number 1.
I made the assumption that the rest of Murray's game was very solid that if he had the best return, he would be number 1. His return sure didn't look good at Wimbledon vs Nadal or in Toronto. Seriously you are overanalyzing the matches. Just because Murray is able to handle the biggest of serves doesn't mean he is the best overall returner.
 

edberg505

Legend
I made the assumption that the rest of Murray's game was very solid that if he had the best return, he would be number 1. His return sure didn't look good at Wimbledon vs Nadal or in Toronto. Seriously you are overanalyzing the matches. Just because Murray is able to handle the biggest of serves doesn't mean he is the best overall returner.
Of course, what was I thinking arguing with you about Nadal. There's not an objective bone in your body when you are talking about Nadal. Carry on.
 

NamRanger

G.O.A.T.
I made the assumption that the rest of Murray's game was very solid that if he had the best return, he would be number 1. His return sure didn't look good at Wimbledon vs Nadal or in Toronto. Seriously you are overanalyzing the matches. Just because Murray is able to handle the biggest of serves doesn't mean he is the best overall returner.

Of course his return didn't look that good. Want to know why? Because Murray WAS NOT PLAYING AT THE LEVEL HE IS PLAYING NOW NITWIT.
 

Cup8489

G.O.A.T.
I made the assumption that the rest of Murray's game was very solid that if he had the best return, he would be number 1. His return sure didn't look good at Wimbledon vs Nadal or in Toronto. Seriously you are overanalyzing the matches. Just because Murray is able to handle the biggest of serves doesn't mean he is the best overall returner.
coming from this character, that's a big thing to say.

don't be hypocritical Nadal_Freak. you know you overanalyze all the time.
 

Nadal_Freak

Banned
Of course his return didn't look that good. Want to know why? Because Murray WAS NOT PLAYING AT THE LEVEL HE IS PLAYING NOW NITWIT.
Well I went by 2008 in its entirety. Murray on indoor hardcourts is the better returner. Once we get back to clay, Nadal can't miss a return. ;)
 

Nadal_Freak

Banned
coming from this character, that's a big thing to say.

don't be hypocritical Nadal_Freak. you know you overanalyze all the time.
Well he picked 2 matches to prove Nadal wasn't as good of a returner. Picking 2 matches for anything is not enough data to prove something as close of a call as it is between Nadal and Murray.
 

zagor

Bionic Poster
Revisionist history right here. It's easy to say that Fed at his best was way better than Rafa right now without having to deal with any stats or facts.
It's also easy to say that such and such players are better than Fed in everything now that he's declining(as tennis greats do around the age of 27,aside from an occasional late bloomer like Lendl or Agassi),in other words it's easy(but still lame)to bash champion when he's down,especially one that has been so dominant so long like Fed that he got people who are against him(for one reason or another)waiting 4.5 years for their opportunity to attack him.

It would be like me saying when Nadal reaches the age of 27 and loses the number one spot(like I think he will at that age if not earlier)that he hasn't declined at all,that new players are just better than him.But of course I won't say those things when that happens as I know that every tennis player will lose a step when they reach the age of around 27,it's just the nature of the game.

I bet if I had you guys to rank the top returners today, many of you would put Fed at the top.
Not really,I'm a big Fed fan(probably one of the biggest on this forum)but I would pick Murray as the best returner of serve today followed by Nalbandian and then probably Djokovic.I have never seen anyone handle Karlovic's serve the way Murray did in Cinncinati this year,he broke Ivo 4 times when Karlovic was serving at 70% and he could have breaken him even more(he had 13 BPs opportunities).Plus the way he handled Fed's serve in Madrid and the way he overall handles Roddick's serve each time they play(I have never seen anyone break Roddick's serve as much as Murray does save prime Fed)are amazing.

I think Fed's return of serve has declined(hence the loses to guys like Roddick and Karlovic this year)while his serve has somewhat improved but I would take Murray's return of serve even over prime Fed's and I don't even like Murray.
 
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edberg505

Legend
Not really,I'm a big Fed fan(probably one of the biggest on this forum)but I would pick Murray as the best returner of serve today followed by Nalbandian and then probably Djokovic.I have never seen anyone handle Karlovic's serve the way Murray did in Cinncinati this year,he broke Ivo 4 times when Karlovic was serving at 70% and he could have breaken him even more(he had 13 BPs opportunities).Plus the way he handled Fed's serve in Madrid and the way he overall handles Roddick's serve each time they play(I have never seen anyone break Roddick's serve as much as Murray does save prime Fed)are amazing.

I think Fed's return of serve has declined(hence the loses to guys like Roddick and Karlovic this year)while his serve has somewhat improved but I would take Murray's return of serve even over prime Fed's and I don't even like Murray.
Now pay attention Nadal_Freak this is what you call being objective. And make no mistake about it I'm not a big Murray fan either. But I've seen him play against some pretty good servers this year and Murray is no joke on returns.
 

Nadal_Freak

Banned
Now pay attention Nadal_Freak this is what you call being objective. And make no mistake about it I'm not a big Murray fan either. But I've seen him play against some pretty good servers this year and Murray is no joke on returns.
I agree. He is the best return of server on the fast surfaces. Nadal is the best returner on slow surfaces by far. He broke records how many times he broke at the French Open this year. You rarely could get a serve by Nadal there. Overall I'd give Nadal the slight edge overall counting all surfaces.
 

edmondsm

Legend
I would be curious to know what Nadal's stats are like on serve. 1st serve points won, 2nd serve etc.. Anybody know where I could find that info?
 

caulcano

Hall of Fame
I agree. He is the best return of server on the fast surfaces. Nadal is the best returner on slow surfaces by far. He broke records how many times he broke at the French Open this year. You rarely could get a serve by Nadal there. Overall I'd give Nadal the slight edge overall counting all surfaces.
Nadal doesn't solely rely on his return of serve on clay to be the best on clay, it's his overall play on clay that does (top-spin & running around). Most of the time, a serve in a clay match is mere a way of starting a point as the serve is not as effective as it would be on any other surface.
 

wyutani

Hall of Fame
Nadal doesn't solely rely on his return of serve on clay to be the best on clay, it's his overall play on clay that does (top-spin & running around). Most of the time, a serve in a clay match is mere a way of starting a point as the serve is not as effective as it would be on any other surface.
yeah, i agree. hes more of an all-rounder...
 

Benhur

Hall of Fame
I think in a discussion as this one it is important to always keep the distinction between the return of serve (as a shot) and the return game.

Nadal does not have the best return of serve, but he does have the best return game, and the statistics clearly show it. He leads in all key statistics: percentage of points won returning first serve, percentage of points won returning second serve, and percentage of return games won. The latter being by far the most important.

It is not difficult to analyze why a player with a better return (shot) may have a poorer return game than another, and viceversa.

The server has an advantage. The first and most urgent goal of the returner is to try to neutralize that advantage as quickly as possible. But that's not enough. Bringing the point to something like neutral is only the first step. You still have to win the point.

Players with a great return are able to not only neutralize the advantage in the first shot (the return) but even turn it around with an aggressive return more often than Nadal does. And yet they can't break serve as often as he does. I think the difference has to be attributed to Nadal's consistency. He may not turn things around in the first shot with a dazzling return, and he may not even manage to neutralize all the advantage in the first shot. But in the end he brings the point to neutral during the first 1-3 shots more often than the others, and, most important, once he does bring the point to neutral, his chances of winning the point are higher than the others because of his superior ground game and consistency.

Since Nadal does not win many points directly from the strength of his serve, he is used to having to win games (both when serving and when returning) working up from a neutral position, and gradually increasing the pressure in the boa constrictor style every one is familiar with. In other words, his serve games differ less from his return games than is the case with most other players who have a better serve than him. Many of these players look like they have two completely different tennis personalities, one as servers (dominant, aggressive, strong, assured) and one as receivers, where the above attributes are often changed into their opposites. Nadal seems to have much more consistent attributes in both roles.

Still, let us keep things within reason. You cannot bring the point to neutral if you are a lousy returner. And if you cannot do it, you won't break serve. So from this perspective Nadal's return of serve (as a shot) must be pretty good, very effective, up there among the top 6 perhaps -- but certainly not the best or the most spectacular.
 

bolo

G.O.A.T.
I think in a discussion as this one it is important to always keep the distinction between the return of serve (as a shot) and the return game.

Nadal does not have the best return of serve, but he does have the best return game, and the statistics clearly show it. He leads in all key statistics: percentage of points won returning first serve, percentage of points won returning second serve, and percentage of return games won. The latter being by far the most important.

It is not difficult to analyze why a player with a better return (shot) may have a poorer return game than another, and viceversa.

The server has an advantage. The first and most urgent goal of the returner is to try to neutralize that advantage as quickly as possible. But that's not enough. Bringing the point to something like neutral is only the first step. You still have to win the point.

Players with a great return are able to not only neutralize the advantage in the first shot (the return) but even turn it around with an aggressive return more often than Nadal does. And yet they can't break serve as often as he does. I think the difference has to be attributed to Nadal's consistency. He may not turn things around in the first shot with a dazzling return, and he may not even manage to neutralize all the advantage in the first shot. But in the end he brings the point to neutral during the first 1-3 shots more often than the others, and, most important, once he does bring the point to neutral, his chances of winning the point are higher than the others because of his superior ground game and consistency.

Since Nadal does not win many points directly from the strength of his serve, he is used to having to win games (both when serving and when returning) working up from a neutral position, and gradually increasing the pressure in the boa constrictor style every one is familiar with. In other words, his serve games differ less from his return games than is the case with most other players who have a better serve than him. Many of these players look like they have two completely different tennis personalities, one as servers (dominant, aggressive, strong, assured) and one as receivers, where the above attributes are often changed into their opposites. Nadal seems to have much more consistent attributes in both roles.

Still, let us keep things within reason. You cannot bring the point to neutral if you are a lousy returner. And if you cannot do it, you won't break serve. So from this perspective Nadal's return of serve (as a shot) must be pretty good, very effective, up there among the top 6 perhaps -- but certainly not the best or the most spectacular.
that's a good way of putting it benhur!
 

Nadal_Freak

Banned
I think in a discussion as this one it is important to always keep the distinction between the return of serve (as a shot) and the return game.

Nadal does not have the best return of serve, but he does have the best return game, and the statistics clearly show it. He leads in all key statistics: percentage of points won returning first serve, percentage of points won returning second serve, and percentage of return games won. The latter being by far the most important.

It is not difficult to analyze why a player with a better return (shot) may have a poorer return game than another, and viceversa.

The server has an advantage. The first and most urgent goal of the returner is to try to neutralize that advantage as quickly as possible. But that's not enough. Bringing the point to something like neutral is only the first step. You still have to win the point.

Players with a great return are able to not only neutralize the advantage in the first shot (the return) but even turn it around with an aggressive return more often than Nadal does. And yet they can't break serve as often as he does. I think the difference has to be attributed to Nadal's consistency. He may not turn things around in the first shot with a dazzling return, and he may not even manage to neutralize all the advantage in the first shot. But in the end he brings the point to neutral during the first 1-3 shots more often than the others, and, most important, once he does bring the point to neutral, his chances of winning the point are higher than the others because of his superior ground game and consistency.

Since Nadal does not win many points directly from the strength of his serve, he is used to having to win games (both when serving and when returning) working up from a neutral position, and gradually increasing the pressure in the boa constrictor style every one is familiar with. In other words, his serve games differ less from his return games than is the case with most other players who have a better serve than him. Many of these players look like they have two completely different tennis personalities, one as servers (dominant, aggressive, strong, assured) and one as receivers, where the above attributes are often changed into their opposites. Nadal seems to have much more consistent attributes in both roles.

Still, let us keep things within reason. You cannot bring the point to neutral if you are a lousy returner. And if you cannot do it, you won't break serve. So from this perspective Nadal's return of serve (as a shot) must be pretty good, very effective, up there among the top 6 perhaps -- but certainly not the best or the most spectacular.
Agree with this post. You convinced me that the stats don't tell the whole story but most of it. Once the point is at neutral, no one in the game is better than Nadal. Nadal does get a lot of returns back. Especially on clay. I don't think anyone can match him there. Murray is the most versatile returner but isn't as good once the point is at neutral. Thus why he isn't leading in the most breaks. Fed in his prime was a great neutralizer of great servers but also wasn't the best when the points were neutral. One reason why Nadal gave Fed so much problems. Neutralizing Nadal's serve is pretty worthless.
 

bolo

G.O.A.T.
Agree with this post. You convinced me that the stats don't tell the whole story but most of it. Once the point is at neutral, no one in the game is better than Nadal. Nadal does get a lot of returns back. Especially on clay. I don't think anyone can match him there. Murray is the most versatile returner but isn't as good once the point is at neutral. Thus why he isn't leading in the most breaks. Fed in his prime was a great neutralizer of great servers but also wasn't the best when the points were neutral. One reason why Nadal gave Fed so much problems. Neutralizing Nadal's serve is pretty worthless.
nadal has fed. perplexed on break points. The stat./picture they showed in the 3rd set of the final was priceless. In all the first serves on the ad. side nadal was serving either to the forehand or the body. The 2nd serves he was doing the usual backhand serve. Even when fed. finally got good looks he was just dumping balls into the net.
 

caulcano

Hall of Fame
I think in a discussion as this one it is important to always keep the distinction between the return of serve (as a shot) and the return game.

Nadal does not have the best return of serve, but he does have the best return game, and the statistics clearly show it. He leads in all key statistics: percentage of points won returning first serve, percentage of points won returning second serve, and percentage of return games won. The latter being by far the most important.

It is not difficult to analyze why a player with a better return (shot) may have a poorer return game than another, and viceversa.

The server has an advantage. The first and most urgent goal of the returner is to try to neutralize that advantage as quickly as possible. But that's not enough. Bringing the point to something like neutral is only the first step. You still have to win the point.

Players with a great return are able to not only neutralize the advantage in the first shot (the return) but even turn it around with an aggressive return more often than Nadal does. And yet they can't break serve as often as he does. I think the difference has to be attributed to Nadal's consistency. He may not turn things around in the first shot with a dazzling return, and he may not even manage to neutralize all the advantage in the first shot. But in the end he brings the point to neutral during the first 1-3 shots more often than the others, and, most important, once he does bring the point to neutral, his chances of winning the point are higher than the others because of his superior ground game and consistency.

Since Nadal does not win many points directly from the strength of his serve, he is used to having to win games (both when serving and when returning) working up from a neutral position, and gradually increasing the pressure in the boa constrictor style every one is familiar with. In other words, his serve games differ less from his return games than is the case with most other players who have a better serve than him. Many of these players look like they have two completely different tennis personalities, one as servers (dominant, aggressive, strong, assured) and one as receivers, where the above attributes are often changed into their opposites. Nadal seems to have much more consistent attributes in both roles.

Still, let us keep things within reason. You cannot bring the point to neutral if you are a lousy returner. And if you cannot do it, you won't break serve. So from this perspective Nadal's return of serve (as a shot) must be pretty good, very effective, up there among the top 6 perhaps -- but certainly not the best or the most spectacular.
Very good valid points. However, Nadal is so dominant on clay that it distorts the stats somewhat.
 
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