Wimbledon has not been kind to Rafael Nadal in recent years. And don't expect that trend to end in 2014.
Following another grueling and emotional run to the French Open championship this June and only two weeks separating the conclusion of Roland Garros and the start of play at the All England Club, expect an exhausted Nadal to bow out in the early stages of Wimbledon for the third straight year.
Freelance sports journalist Simon Cambers notes the mighty test ahead:
That's not to say that the world No. 1 is poised to suffer yet another first- or second-round upset, but he won't be a factor in the tournament's second week.
Sure, the 28-year-old Spaniard reaffirmed his status as the King of Clay en route to his ninth French Open title on Sunday. However, he'll have very little time to adjust to the grass. He's scheduled to play in the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, Germany this coming week, but the grass-court preparation comes at the expense of much-needed rest and recovery.
After claiming his 14th major trophy on Sunday, Nadal talked about the challenge that awaits him in London, per BBC Sport:
I want to try to play well again in Wimbledon. I'm healthy. That's the most important thing. I hope my knee will have the positive feeling on grass, because I feel my knee is better than last year on the rest of the surfaces. Grass always was a little bit harder for me after the injury. Last year I tried, but I was not ready to compete at Wimbledon. Let's see how my feelings are there this year, but it's a very important tournament.
While he was barely tested in seven match wins at Roland Garros, the stress on Nadal's body and mind over that time period is significant. Plus, he's been dealing with back pain on and off since his Australian Open defeat back in January.
The competition and best-of-five format at Wimbledon are sure to push Nadal to his physical limits once again, and considering he hasn't won the two European Grand Slams back to back since 2010, it seems highly unlikely that Rafa will have enough gas in the tank to cross the finish line first in London next month.
Nadal was in the prime of his career when he accomplished the rare feat in 2008 and 2010 and is just 1-3 over his last four matches at Wimbledon dating back to the 2011 finals.
Although he's still one of the top athletes in men's tennis, Nadal's game isn't suited for the grass. He doesn't possess a big serve that can routinely get him out of trouble, and his heavy topspin forehand isn't nearly as devastating to opponents on the fast-playing grass at Wimbledon.
The surface, which produces much shorter points than clay or hard courts, minimizes Nadal's reaction time, and when he's playing several feet behind the baseline, that can be problematic for the Spaniard.
By admitting that his body reacts much differently to the grass, Nadal's opponents won't be intimidated when stepping onto the court with him at the All England Club. With a pair of relative unknown players (Lukas Rosol in 2012 and Steve Darcis in 2013) knocking Nadal out of the men's draw in back-to-back years in 2012 and 2013, it's clear that confidence will also be an issue for Rafa this summer.
In addition to having to overcome the physical and emotional obstacles in his way, the two-time Wimbledon champion must rediscover the belief he had from 2006 to 2011.
With defending champion Andy Murray returning to form and Novak Djokovic determined to end his lengthy major drought, the odds will be stacked against Nadal at Wimbledon this summer.
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