Step by step, slowly, slowly Rafa Nadal is making his way at Wimbledon. The winner of 18 Grand Slam titles, 12 of them at Roland Garros, knows his way to the business end of a major tournament but this is different. This is Wimbledon.
Nadal, step by step at Wimbledon?
Rafa just won his 12th Roland-Garros title. And now this is Wimbledon. So what’s next for him?
It has been nine years since Nadal won the second of his two trophies in SW19 and in the intervening years, there have been more times than he cares to remember when he turned up for work knowing full well that he was in no physical state to play seven matches on grass.
Last year, when he lost to Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals, was one of the only times since 2010 that he felt his body and his game were working in harmony. And then he missed out on a place in the final by a gnat’s whisker.
Rafa is back
Coming back this year, he had no idea whether he would be physically ready in time. He left Roland Garros promising to try and be in good shape for The Championships but he could make no promises. Now that he is back – and survived an opening set scare against Yuichi Sugita before coming through 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 – he is still making no promises because now he plays Nick Kyrgios, the man who beat him in the fourth round back in 2014.
“My thoughts are very clear, no?” he said. “I play against a top talent player, very dangerous player when he wants to play tennis. Normally against the best players, he wants to play tennis. When that happens, he's a very dangerous opponent.
“Of course, like second round is a super tough one. I know that. I need to be at my 100 per cent. I going to fight for it.
His defeat of Dominic Thiem a little over three weeks ago in Paris brought Nadal to within two Grand Slam titles of Roger Federer. Had he not struggled with his knee problems, had his wrist not given out in 2016, had the fates not made life so difficult for him, he might have been streets ahead of Federer by now. But Nadal takes it all in his stride.
“I achieved too much to complain“
He shows no bitterness with the cards he has been dealt, he gives no indication that feels life is unfair at times. Off court as well as on it, Nadal deals with the situation directly in front of him, handles it as best he can and then moves on.
“After all the things,” he said, “after all the amazing things that is happening in my life, will be not nice to say something wrong or complain about the negative things. There are too many good things that happened to me.
“Since the beginning of my career, I was able to manage all this stuff. Is true that I had more problems than my competitors for these numbers, I mean, in the history. But I can't complain, no? I achieved too much to complain. I feel too lucky to complain about the negative things.”
With his first match under his belt, Nadal clearly does not see to many negative aspects to his stay in SW19 this year. Day by day, he is getting more used to the grass beneath his feet and the way he needs to play upon it. He is far from at his peak yet but he has only played in the first round so far. There is plenty of time and plenty of room for improvement.
Another day, another chance
“Last year I created the chance. I have been very close. I am here to fight again for produce the chance. I need to find my best tennis.
“That's what I am looking for, just try to produce chances. Today have been a positive start. Tomorrow another practice. I hope to be ready for after tomorrow.”
Another day, another chance. That is how Nadal wins titles.