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Inside Rafael Nadal's on-court rituals: OCD claims, superstitions and habits

Joshua Rogers June 1, 2022
rafael nadal ocd towel habits
Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images

Here, we explore many of Rafael Nadal’s on-court rituals and habits, as well as claims that the tennis star has OCD.

Rafael Nadal is bidding for a record 14th French Open title at Roland Garros this year. The 21-time Grand Slam winner is into the semi-finals in Paris after overcoming No.1 seed and fierce rival Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals.

The Spanish legend is widely recognised as one of the most superstitious players on tour, and while Rafael Nadal denies having OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), he does have a number of strict routines and habits.

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Rafael Nadal may not have OCD, but he is superstitious

Throughout the 2022 French Open, a number of people on social media have commented on Rafael Nadal’s apparent OCD.

‘Nadal’s pre-serve OCD tics are quite a sight to behold’, one person wrote during his match vs Djokovic.

Indeed, the tennis superstar does have a number of on-court habits which help him focus during games. However, despite the claims, Nadal has never confirmed or denied whether he has OCD or not.

Nevertheless, the Spaniard has demonstrated a number of superstitious behaviours on court in the past. For example, Nadal always plants his energy drink slightly in front of his water bottle with both labels perfectly facing the court.

At every change of ends, he straightens his two water bottles to ensure they’re perfectly aligned. He also puts his hair behind his ear before every point and touches his shorts. He also uses a towel between every point, even when he isn’t particularly hot or sweaty.

“I put the two bottles down at my feet, in front of my chair to my left, one neatly behind the other, diagonally aimed at the court. 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,” Nadal once said.

“It is something you start to do that is like a routine. When I do these things it means I am focused, I am competing – it’s something I don’t need to do but when I do it, it means I’m focused”, he added.

Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

He is known to get irate if something disrupts his habits

A number of opponents have picked up on Nadal’s habits over the years.

During a match at the Australian Open in 2020, Nick Kyrgios mimicked Nadal while playing Giles Simon, pretending to tuck his hair behind his ears.

Famously at the 2019 US Open, Rafa got visibly irked when a ball boy placed a third water bottle in his area while he was playing Marin Cilic. Rafa was clearly unhappy and handed the bottle back rather aggressively:

Doctor’s have criticised those have who called Nadal OCD in the past

Back in 2014, Dr Christopher Mogan, a psychologist who specialises in obsessive-compulsive disorder, criticised Australian Open commentators Jim Courier and Lleyton Hewitt for saying Nadal had OCD.

Per The Sydney Morning Herald, Dr Mogan said it was ‘impossible to diagnose somebody without speaking to them, but felt the world No.1 ”seems to have a psychological disorder which is being ridiculed”.

However, those in Rafa’s camp once commented on the rituals saying they were nothing to be concerned about.

”He has told me before he can stop doing them and I have told him to do it,” Rafa’s uncle and former coach Toni Nadal said in 2012. ”It does not affect his game, but if he needed those things to play well, it would be bad.”

Photo by Andy Cheung/Getty Images

Rafael Nadal’s on-court rituals

Nadal is known to have many on-court rituals. Here’s just a few of the well-documented ones:

  • He has a freezing cold shower 45 minutes before the match.
  • Rafa wears both socks at the same height.
  • He always places his bottles in the same exact position.
  • Nadal carries one racket onto the court, and five rackets in his bag.
  • He ensures his opponent crosses the net before he does during a changeover.
  • He places his hair behind his ear and fiddles with his shorts or underwear before each serve.
  • Nadal sips his energy drink and then his water, always in the same order.
  • He uses a towel after every single point.
  • He never rises from his seat before his opponent.
  • Rafa avoids walking on the sidelines.
  • He doesn’t put his headband on until just before he enters the court.

Do you think Rafael Nadal will win the French Open this year? Let us know in the comments below!

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Joshua is a senior sports writer with over four years' experience in online writing. He graduated with a BA in Ancient History from The University of Manchester before receiving an MA in Sports Journalism from The University of Central Lancashire. He became a trending writer for a leading social publisher and later spent time covering the 2018 World Cup for The Mirror Online. He then moved to a social marketing agency where he acted as website editor. His specialties on The Focus include F1, tennis, NBA, NFL and combat sports.