The early rounds of the 2014 Wimbledon Championships can't be taken lightly.
Rafael Nadal knows this.
Even as a two-time Grand Slam champion at the All England Club, Nadal has succumbed to defeat within the first two rounds in his two most recent appearances.
Another test awaited Nadal on Tuesday in his opening-round clash with Martin Klizan. After losing the opening set 6-4, the Spanish superstar displayed his trademark resolve and strung together three brilliant sets of 6-3 dominance.
Bouncing back from that adversity allowed Nadal to be locked in as he fought for his tournament life. Facing the possibility of bowing out prematurely for a third straight trip at Wimbledon, he rallied with purpose. That should serve him well as the year's third major progresses.
Klizan was no cakewalk, either.
Inconsistency has hampered his career, but the 24-year-old has been ranked as high as 26th in the ATP hierarchy.
Points like this one below make SportsCenter, which more importantly serves as a showcase for the difference between players like Nadal and most of his opponents:
Mental strength and the will to play every point as if it's his last has helped Nadal ascend to all-time great status. If not for nagging injuries or legendary contemporaries, he'd be even more decorated and revered.
Nadal has admitted that this championship's grass courts are hard to acclimate to with so little time to prepare, per SI.com's Courtney Nguyen:
When I arrived to Roland Garros I already played for one month on clay. I played a lot of matches. So more or less I can imagine how I am going to play. U.S. Open is the same. Australia, [it's] true that it is the beginning of the season, but is a surface that we know so it is not a dramatic change, no? Here, yes. Especially the beginning of the tournament the courts are a little bit faster. The feeling on court is a little bit strange for everybody. Especially the top players have really more pressure.
Those are circumstances everyone has to deal with, of course. However, Nadal is in a unique position and has room to talk here. He's not one for excuses, nor should this be perceived as an attempt to make any.
Coming off his ninth French Open title at Roland Garros, it's perhaps excusable that Nadal would have somewhat of a letdown.
Given that Nadal has won the tournament in Paris five times in a row now—and nine times in 10 years—he's had to play more tennis at a higher level before Wimbledon than any of his peers.
Combine that with his all-out style that puts extraordinary strain on his body and his knees, and it's difficult to adjust. Nadal is such a wizard on clay and can slide to avoid further physical stress, then he has to turn around for Wimbledon and be at his very best.
Seemingly against all odds, Nadal once again pulled off brilliant shots, mind-boggling winners that have frustrated many a foe over the years and made rather quick work of Klizan in the end.
Former tennis professional and renowned coach Darren Cahill lauded Nadal for hanging tough:
All of these factors should lend to a greater appreciation of the sustained greatness Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and others have been able to achieve.
Now it's on to Round 2 for Nadal, where potential vengeance versus Lukas Rosol awaits. The New York Times' Christopher Clarey points out the significance of the impending meeting:
Rosol upset Nadal in the second round at Wimbledon in 2012, but it is indeed hard to see the underdog replicating that feat.
The demands of expectations and an unfavorable Wimbledon draw aren't making things easier on Nadal as he continues his quest for a 15th Grand Slam title.
That would put him just two behind Federer for the all-time mark. Based on his first-round thriller with Klizan, there is no reason to count Nadal out.
Nadal beat Djokovic in the Roland Garros final. With Federer approaching the end of his career, reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray still not in elite form this year and David Ferrer eliminated, it stands to reason that Nadal's chances of triumphing at the All England Club are as strong as ever.
The tough opening challenge Klizan posed may be viewed as inconsequential if Nadal is knocked off. With the difficult draw he has, it could very well happen.
Should Nadal take his third Wimbledon title, though, his performance to start the tournament should be viewed as a turning point that sparked him, giving him confidence on grass and driving him to even greater success.
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