Rafael Nadal tried. He scratched, clawed, dove and stretched himself to the very limitations of what a body can hold. It just wasn't enough to earn a second Grand Slam this season.
Nick Kyrgios defeated Nadal 7-6, 5-7, 7-6, 6-3 on Tuesday in a result that will undoubtedly blast the 2014 Wimbledon brackets wide open.
Nadal came into Wimbledon a two-time champion (2008, 2010), but has actually had less success at the three other Grand Slams (five titles) as he's had on the clay at the French Open (nine titles). Coming off another triumph at Roland Garros, Nadal was hoping to build on that performance and earn another Grand Slam this season.
But it will have to wait until the U.S. Open.
Djokovic in particular is very clearly challenging Nadal's status as the world's best player. The Serb's Italian Open win was his fourth straight over Nadal, though Nadal had his revenge at the French Open final, gutting out the win in a grueling match that pushed both men to their limits.
At the very least, Nadal's top ranking is in big-time danger as the tennis world heads back into the hard-court season. Nadal has won only two U.S. Open titles in his career, in 2010 and 2013. Still, as the defending champion, he'll be tough to beat in New York.
As Nadal's career has gone along, grass surfaces have increasingly become a bugaboo. Before knee injuries began slowly sapping away his lateral quickness—and it is slight—Nadal was able to overcome his natural struggles. He managed five straight Wimbledon finals appearances from 2006 to 2011, excluding a 2009 break due to injury.
It was instead the Australian and U.S. Opens that left him frustrated year after year. But as he nibbles ever closer to age 30, that script has been flipped. Nadal has reached the final in each of his last three U.S. Open appearances, winning in 2013. He's gone to the Aussie final in consecutive appearances. (Each of those have one withdrawal in between.)
"[Grass is] probably the toughest surface for me today, because I had to move and I have to play in a lower position than in the rest of the surfaces," Nadal told reporters last year. "So that's the real thing."
Nadal's winning percentage at Wimbledon now almost perfectly mirrors his identical U.S. Open and Australian rates. That would have been unheard of at Nadal's pinnacle, where he constantly looked on the precipice of dominating the middle of summer.
Now, it's much up in the air.
Andy Murray has had a miserable go of it since winning Wimbledon last year. He'll look to find any way to get back into the world's best conversation. Djokovic is still quietly dealing with the fact he's only won two Grand Slam titles away from Melbourne.
And then there is Roger Federer. Age 32. Back plugging along the circuit as the world's fourth-ranked player, as if that were a totally normal outcome for a guy who looked cooked last year. Federer has five U.S. Opens under his belt, though his most recent win there was in 2008. If the perfect storybook ending is ever coming, the U.S. Open is as good a place as any.
Essentially, Nadal's loss changes very little. These are the storylines that were going to carry into the hard-court season no matter the result at Wimbledon. This loss makes Nadal no less likely to win at the U.S. Open. He is inherently less likely to win in New York than, say, Paris, but that's simply based on historical context.
There is a chasm between Nadal and other top players on clay. There is a slight separation between Nadal, Djokovic and the world's handful of best players on grass or the hard court. Anyone who attempts to say Nadal will be "motivated" by his loss at Wimbledon is driving a nonsense narrative.
The U.S. Open beckons. Whatever "momentum" or "motivation" Nadal feels from his loss at Wimbledon will surely dissipate. His loss merely means he's less likely to walk into New York as the world's No. 1 player.
What happens there will be unrelated.
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