Following his 2014 Wimbledon first-round win over Martin Klizan, Rafael Nadal may have cast off some of the doubts concerning his struggles on grass courts. But the tennis universe always presents the next formidable challenge, and fittingly, Nadal will have another opportunity to overcome a past setback.
Standing in his way is second-round opponent Lukas Rosol, the upstart journeyman who conquered Nadal in the 2012 Wimbledon second round. Rosol earned his way into tennis trivia as a giant killer, and the famous effect was Nadal missing the next seven months with a knee injury.
For his part, Rosol, ranked No. 100 heading into that match, found more confidence and success. He has spent time inside the top 50 and is currently ranked No. 52. His success comes full circle to another Nadal match, and he knows that it will be much tougher this time.
Is Nadal looking for revenge, or is the next match just another step for Wimbledon redemption?
The Match That Altered History
The Nadal-Rosol match contained plenty of excitement. It was a five-set affair that featured big shots, comebacks from both players and 45 minutes to close the roof before the fifth set could be played. Rosol then immediately took the break and hit a smattering of well-timed thunderbolts to seal the win.
There were moments of controversy. In the third set, Nadal complained to the chair umpire about Rosol bothering him as his serve was broken for a 2-1 deficit. On the changeover, Nadal bumped into Rosol. “He wanted to take my concentration. ... I knew that he will try something,” Rosol said, per The Associated Press (via SI.com).
In the end, Rosol pounded out 22 aces and hit the kind of powerful, flat winners that would have made fellow Czech Ivan Lendl proud and perhaps a bit envious in musing on his own Wimbledon angst. Nadal agreed that he had run into a buzz saw, according to the AP (via ESPN.com):
He played more than unbelievable. You play against an inspired opponent and I am out. That’s all. Is not a tragedy. Is only a tennis match. At the end, that’s life. There is much more important things. Sure, I wanted to win, but I lost.
Nadal limped off the court for the last time in 2012. It would have been interesting to see if he would have tried to play a third-round match had he won. Nevertheless, the shock waves felt from this match would reverberate throughout the tennis field, perhaps altering the destinies and fortunes of the next several months.
Roger Federer won Wimbledon.
Andy Murray won a gold medal in men’s singles and his first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open.
Nadal, who had previously appeared in five straight major finals, was missing. What we do know is that he would effectively mount an historic comeback in 2013, winning 10 titles and two majors while reclaiming the No. 1 ranking.
Say this about Nadal: For all of his great championship results and unique records, it usually hinges on his courage and resilience to come back and regain his standing as the best player in the world.
The King of Comebacks
Robin Soderling found out how difficult it was to defeat Nadal in the 2010 French Open final, a year following the Swede’s titanic upset over the Spanish champion. Soderling had also won a follow-up match against Nadal in the WTF round robin in November 2009. This time around, he was plastered in straight sets as Nadal returned to the top of tennis.
David Ferrer recently felt Nadal’s wrath at the 2014 French Open quarterfinals. Ferrer, who had defeated Nadal at Monte Carlo, was demoralized in the final two sets of a four-set pasting. Said Ferrer, as noted by Reuters, “I threw in the towel.”
Rosol will have his work cut out for him, and Nadal will be ready. There is nobody who can concentrate so thoroughly through big matches and meaningful returns. Nadal is like a well-drilled soccer team checking every possibility on defense, not giving an inch and finding ways to counter with his own attack.
He has seen it all and done it all, but there is always the next challenge. He has the capacity to treat each opponent as a championship contender, knowing that he must work each point and play as if it were his last match.
This will be Nadal’s opportunity to exorcise another demon and gain greater footing on his path to the second week. (Side note: Nadal slipped a few times on the grass in the Klizan win, but he was able to get up three times and finish off the point. It’s a stretch to analyze this symbolically but a good omen nonetheless.)
Is Nadal’s resilience his most important quality? It’s certainly a piece of his identity and legacy, the non-statistical trait that leads many to back him as the toughest player to overcome. It’s like trying to kill off the Terminator. He will keep coming back to lay waste to the competition.
For all of his consistent results and periods of dominance, Nadal’s comebacks have created a unique and unpredictable destiny. It’s not a matter of “if” he will come back but “when.” He has rebounded from bitter championship defeats, injuries and doubts. There is always an answer, even as 11 of 12 tennis analysts on ESPN tab someone else to win Wimbledon.
For Nadal fans, the upcoming Rosol match will be an intriguing reminder of the dark clouds that rolled into the latter half of 2012. For Nadal, the past does not matter, as he said in the Irish Independent:
When you are in a match, you are not thinking about what happened last year, two years ago or five years ago. When you are in a match, you are thinking about the next point, you are thinking about finding a solution for that match.
Revenge? Poets and storytellers would see it that way, but the reality is that Nadal wants to win. Rosol just happens to be an obstacle to his latest odyssey of rediscovering his Wimbledon championship form.