Rafael Nadal Faces Grass Challenge at Wimbledon in Quest to Maintain Elite Play

Benjamin Klein@BenjaminJKleinContributor IIIJune 18, 2013

June 28, 2012; London, ENGLAND; Rafael Nadal (ESP) reacts during his match against Lukas Rosol (CZE) on day four of the 2012 Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.  Mandatory Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

Rafael Nadal has been one of the more successful tennis players at Wimbledon in years past, but he faces quite the challenge this time around.

Rafa will be playing at Wimbledon for the first time since sitting out for seven months with a knee injury. The grass surface at the Grand Slam is really going to test Nadal’s knee and it should be obvious to tell whether it’s giving him problems or not. With the quick surface, he’ll be moving around much more than on others.

It’s no secret that clay is where Nadal plays best—not grass. He hasn’t been fantastic on grass, but he hasn’t been bad either. Roughly 67 percent of his grass matches have come at Wimbledon and with more than 40 tilts at the Grand Slam, he’s about as experienced as anyone there.

The last time Nadal played at Wimbledon, it was unforgettable—but not for good reasons. As many remember, Nadal was bounced in the second round a year ago, courtesy of Lukas Rosol. It was one of the biggest upsets you could draw up. It was the first time since 2005 that Nadal failed to make it to the third round of the tournament.

Nadal hasn’t played on grass in quite some time and rust could certainly be a factor. Rafa has yet to play on a grass court since his loss to Rosol at Wimbledon in 2012. It wouldn’t be shocking if he exited early for the second straight year considering his lack of recent experience.

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What’s important to keep in mind, though, is that Nadal has been playing great overall in recent months. He’s won the last four tournaments he’s played in, most notably the 2013 French Open—defeating David Ferrer in the title match. But yes, all of those victories have come on clay.

Nadal has recent success against those expected to be the favorites at Wimbledon on his side as well. In just the last two tournaments—the French Open and Masters Series Rome—Rafa has defeated Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer. Both will be tough opponents to knock out, but he certainly has momentum on his side. 

One opponent that Nadal hasn’t played in a while—but could at Wimbledon—is Andy Murray. He’s yet to take on Murray this year, but the pair could meet in the quarterfinals if the draw comes out the way many expect it to. Murray is very good on grass, but Nadal has beaten him three times on the surface.

Nadal is in a perfect position entering Wimbledon. His knee has looked fine, albeit on clay—and he’s been able to defeat the best players in the world. Winning his third Grand Slam at Wimbledon this year would not come as a surprise.

Sure, there’s always the chance that Nadal has a fluke match and loses in the early rounds at Wimbledon, but with the way he’s been playing, that doesn’t seem likely. Nadal is ready to avenge last year’s embarrassing loss and prove that he’s just as dominant on grass as he is on clay.