The 'King of Clay'
Having missed seven months recovering from severe tendinitis in both knees, Rafael Nadal announced his return to the ATP tour in February by winning four of the six tournaments he's entered since and losing in the finals of the other two.
Up until Wimbledon 2012, Rafa had dominated the clay-court season, won his (and a record) seventh French Open title but been troubled by knee problems, which had forced him to retire before his semifinal match against Andy Murray at the Miami Masters in March.
And until Novak Djokovic’s phenomenal run of form in 2011, which saw him win three of the year’s four Grand Slams, many saw Nadal as an odds-on favourite to overtake Roger Federer’s then-tally of 16 Slams, which grew to 17 following the Swiss’ 2012 Wimbledon victory.
As he approaches his 27th birthday in June, Nadal has won 11 Grand Slam singles titles: seven French, two Wimbledon and one at both the U.S. and Australian Opens.
How likely is it that the "King of Clay" will add a 12th Slam to his trophy cabinet at Roland Garros?
I’d say it’s very likely.
Rafa loves playing on the grass at Wimbledon. If he happens to play defending champion Federer there, it’s likely, based on their head-to-head record, that he’ll win.
Obviously, Djokovic and Murray will be looking to increase their tally of Grand Slam titles at SW19, but in the first week at Wimbledon, when the grass still has a fair degree of sap in it, anything's possible.
Could Rafael Nadal go on to win more Grand Slams than Roger Federer?
Who could possibly have predicted Nadal’s loss to the then-No. 100-ranked Lukas Rosol there last year?
Nadal can certainly play on hard courts. His victory last month at Indian Wells, in addition to Grand Slam titles won at Flushing Meadow and Flinders Park, have clearly shown that.
So, although Rafa may find the surface physically damaging and campaigns to have more of the season played on clay, he is more than capable of adding further Slams to his total the "hard" way.
At age 26, and with perhaps another five years and 20 Grand Slams ahead of him, Nadal surely has the potential to win another seven, overtake Federer’s record and establish himself as the greatest of all time.
What do you think?
Author of So You Want to Win Wimbledon? How to Turn the Dream Into Reality and How to Put the Great Back into British Tennis—Dig up the Grass at Wimbledon.