At the twilight of 2016, if anyone had suggested that Nadal would be the most dominant player on tour in 2017, they would be laughed at. Many had written off the Spaniard, with Nadal himself expressing doubts about his chances of winning another slam back in 2015. However, the 2017 season has seen Nadal reach incredible highs, reaching the Australian Open and Miami finals, winning 2 clay court Masters and capturing his 10th French Open title, that too without having dropped a set.
From a slam perspective, 2014 was a similar season simply because Nadal reached the finals of AO and won the French open. However, his clay season in 2014 was overall much worse in comparison to 2017, with just the one win in Madrid. Also, 2017 saw Nadal win the French without dropping a set. The last time he did this was in 2010, after which he won Wimbledon. The year before that? 2008. And he won Wimbledon that year too.
However, it isn’t so easy. From 2012 onward, Nadal has had knee issues which hinders how well he moves, especially on grass, which is why he hasn’t performed as well despite winning the slam twice and reaching the finals five times. His past performances since 2012 have been disappointing to say the least.
In all his past yearly performances post 2011, Nadal has never performed as well as he has this year. The only year that comes close is 2013, where he lost in the first round. His confidence this year is sky high, and unlike 2013, Nadal entered 2017 fresh and rejuvenated, without having to skip close to a year of action before. His body has held up, he’s been moving better with time and he doesn’t seem to doubt his chances.
2017 has seen a new Nadal, with gritty five setters in Australia to dominating the clay season and winning the French. He finally bested Djokovic, destroyed every player on his path and re-invented his game, which I’ll speak about next.
Nadal is much, much more offensive. His serve is much faster and consistent. His backhand has improved massively and even his forehand has seen improvement through the months. His net game has seen considerable improvement as well. Thee aspects of his game make him more suited to grass, especially his faster serve and net game.
It’s almost a month of rest for Nadal, who is known for overworking himself. He enters Wimbledon without any strain to his body.
Lack of Match Play
Nadal hasn’t played any warm up tournaments for Wimbledon, having withdrawn from Queens. He did play The Boodles exhibition, but I still feel it’s not enough.
Nadal’s best performance in Wimbledon in the past six years has been in 2014 where he reached the fourth round. He’s had knee issues since 2012, which gets worse playing on grass, so it makes sense. However, even if considering his current health, his performance in the past six years might affect his mental game and hinder his progress into the tournament.
Three potential draws with excellent servers smells trouble, especially for Rafa as he’s famously struggled against them on the Wimbledon grass. He’s touted to play Karen Khachanov in the third round, Gilles Muller/Ivo Karlovic in the fourth and Cilic in the quarters. This is all assuming he gets past the initial rounds, where Nadal has struggled the most due to the incredibly fast court speeds.
Other Points to Consider
The Progressive Nature Of Grass
The grass in Wimbledon is such that it slows down with time. So in the first rounds, the surface will be fast, but with time, it slows down. This helps Nadal since a slow surface means he’ll perform better. So if Nadal progresses into the second week, preferably the quarters, there’s a high chance he might go on to reach the final, or even win the tournament itself. After all, he’s never lost in the quarters or the semis of Wimbledon.
What are Nadal’s Chances?
I’d wager better than post 2011. If Nadal loses in the quarters, it’ll be a damn shame. But him reaching that stage itself is good news. A slim chance of reaching the final, and a higher chance of crashing out in the first week. Whatever happens, we’ll be there to watch and enjoy, and I hope you do too.