Wimbledon 2014: Previewing Rafael Nadal's Road to the Final

Will MedlockFeatured ColumnistJune 22, 2014

Spain's Rafael Nadal volleys the ball to Serbia's Novak Djokovic during their final match of  the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium, in Paris, France, Sunday, June 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Thibault Camus/Associated Press

Although Rafael Nadal has trodden the road to victory at Wimbledon before, he arrives at the 2014 edition with points made and points to prove.

The point he has made in recent weeks can be summed up succinctly: Roland Garros. The world No. 1 continued his almost unbroken monopoly on the French Open, winning his ninth title since 2005 by defeating Novak Djokovic two weeks ago.

However, while his taste for the majors was being satisfied once more in Paris, there remained a point still in need of proving; a point best explained through just one word: grass.

It would be naive to suggest that Nadal's reputation hinges on victory in London. Indeed, his status as one of the best to play the game needs little corroboration. Yet, the green, green grass of Wimbledon has been anything but home over the last two years.

Richard Pagliaro of ESPN and Tennis.com voiced his concerns for him at Wimbledon, citing the unreliability of a surface that may "deny Nadal the confidence and rhythm he craves from the repetition of rallies."

The 28-year-old has tended to experience the most extreme ends of the Wimbledon spectrum in the last seven years after clinching the French Open. A second-round defeat to Lukas Rosol in 2012 was followed by a first-round exit to Steve Darcis last year.

However, in 2010 Nadal did lift the trophy and had done so two years before that, beating Roger Federer in a scintillating, gladiatorial battle. It becomes clear, then, that the transition from clay to grass still needs fine tuning. 

Nadal must re-learn the formula to success that enabled him to follow 2008 and 2010 French Opens with success in London.

Defeats in the mold of the one he endured against big-hitting Dustin Brown two weeks ago don't make for the kindest of re-introductions to grass. ATP staff quoted Nadal as saying that the "transition from clay to grass is difficult, especially when you arrive a little bit tired and not at 100 per cent."

It is true that injury has played its part in stopping Nadal from attaining a smooth transition into the season's penultimate major. Following defeat to Rosol in 2012, an ongoing knee problem forced him to miss the remainder of the year.

If his knee withstands and the surface is kind, the semi-final stage isn't an unrealistic target. He has, after all, reached that point in the tournament five times previously. It also seems as though Nadal is in possession of a positive outlook ahead of the opening round, as reported by Nigel Clarke of The Sunday Express.

"At last I am confident that I can play a lot of matches on grass. Before, I was not. It's the best I have felt for two years."

He will face Martin Klizan, winner of the BMW Open in Munich last month, in round one, with Rosol and Ivo Karlovic likely to follow in rounds two and three respectively.

Federer is set to lie in wait in the semi-finals, with last year's champion, Andy Murray, a potential final opponent. Although Nadal's last two Wimbledon outings suggest nothing should be taken for granted, it is hard to see him slipping against Klizan.

The Slovakian showed a devilish forehand and a deft drop shot to defeat Fabio Fognini in Munich, but Nadal edged Klizan out in their one and only meeting, at Roland Garros, last year.

Nadal's reputation as a fighter, most poignantly displayed in the Australian Open final defeat to Stanislas Wawrinka in January, will serve him well in a tournament laden with pitfalls.

Dan Imhoff wrote for Wimbledon.com that Nadal's false starts in the last two years do not require "alarm bells".  It is, as Imhoff suggests, perhaps too early and foolish to be entirely fatalistic about the chances of one of the game's greatest warriors.

Nadal the fighter needs to rear his head if he is to prove a point and claim a third Wimbledon title. He and grass have had their differences over the last two years, but doubts will not faze him. He admitted in an interview with Time's Sean Gregory that doubts he has about himself can only be good. "The people who don't have doubts I think only two things: arrogance or not intelligence."

He's made one point this year. Don't doubt him making another.