In pursuit of 20 – Rafael Nadal’s quest to overhaul Roger Federer
On the eve of Wimbledon another grand slam title on the line and the opportunity to close the gap on the great Roger Federer, attention turns to Rafael Nadal. Relatively fresh from his eleventh Roland Garros title he will make his bid for another on the grass of Wimbledon. It is a tournament he loves and respects a lot even if he hasn’t had the greatest of luck recently. Who can forget the match of the tournament last year in his 5 set defeat to Gilles Muller. Nadal fought and fought but was unable to hold his serve. It ended up 15-13 in the 5th set.
Nadal has won Wimbledon twice in his career. The 2008 match of the century against Roger Federer and in 2010 he defeated Tomas Berdych for his second title. Nadal has made the final too but has fallen short and suffered some surprising losses none moreso than Lukas Rosol which was another epic under the roof. In recent times he has failed to get passed the fourth round and some would count him out of the reckoning in this event.
Wimbledon has been kind and cruel to Nadal in equal measure; incredible highs, disappointing lows. Nadal always talks about his love for the greatest tournament and always wants to perform his best. Some folk talk about Rafa’s knees not being up to the job of playing on the slippy green surface. As the ball skids through on the grass Rafa bends for every ball and shot after shot, match after match this takes his toll. We have seen Rafa play wearing tape under the knees to prevent any further deterioration.
Where is he now? 2018 post French Open.
Nadal travelled to London earlier in the week to begin his grass court preparations and although it is hard to tell from a practice Rafa looked good, refreshed and hitting the ball well. In his match against Diego Schwarzman in Paris it was thought that Rafa had some difficulty in the wrist area with potential tendonitis. You can watch Rafas first practice below.
Rafa will attempt to get as much practice as he can on the grass before the tournament begins on Monday. Such as the tradition with Wimbledon it would be unlikely that he would start until Tuesday. Roger Federer won the title in 2017 and will open the tournament on Monday. All big name players will be susceptible to early tournament shocks. The grass will be very green without stating the obvious and this makes the surface very slippy and fast. Face a big serve in the early rounds and beware. They could pull off a shock.
Much will depend on the Wimbledon draw as to Rafa’s chances. He certainly has the edge on the rest of the locker room on every other surface. Sadly it isn’t the same on the grass. To beat Rafa you must take away his time, play a high risk but consequently high reward game. He is particularly vulnerable to a hard flat hitter. As Djokovic demonstrated he is still susceptible to the downthe line backhand to his backhand as it seems to jam him up and prevent him from getting on his forehand.
If the forecast remains as it is and the courts begin to dry out in the heat then Rafas chances will improve. A more secure footing is conducive to better traction and Rafa been able to dictate a little more than on a slicker surface. Would Federer want to face Nadal in the final? Absolutely not regardless of his recent record against the Spaniard. The Wimbledon draw is due to be Friday at 10am. All the top guys will be sweating on the draw and wanting to avoid the dangermen.
Can Nadal make 20?
He can and probably will make 20 grand slams. Even if he doesn’t win Wimbledon he is playing at a good level and can probably head into New York as favourite for the title. Looking further ahead into 2019 he is a massive favourite for Roland Garros. Everyone tries the same style against Rafa but rarely are players brave enough to mix it up against him. There are plenty of miles left on the clock with Rafa and he continues to play every point as if it was his last 20 is in sight.