Tennis: Rafa Nadal eyes a revival on grass

Rafael Nadal attends a promotional event at the Nike Store on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, on June 12, 2017.
Rafael Nadal attends a promotional event at the Nike Store on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, on June 12, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

Spaniard says his knees will be the key to the bounce on the manicured turf at Wimbledon

PARIS • Rafael Nadal will resume his bitter-sweet relationship with Wimbledon, buoyed by his record-breaking French Open but wary of the traps which have ensnared him at the All England Club.

The Spaniard routed Stan Wawrinka at Roland Garros on Sunday 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 to become the first man in history to win the same Major 10 times. That took him to 15 Grand Slam titles, one ahead of Pete Sampras and just three behind the 18 of old rival Roger Federer.

Next up on the Slam list in three weeks is Wimbledon, where Nadal is a two-time champion and three-time runner-up. But his last four visits ended with defeats to opponents outside the top 100.

"It's a while since I played a very good Wimbledon. It's true that after 2012 what happened with my knees has made it tougher and tougher to compete on grass. That's the reality," said the 31-year-old .

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Injury forced him to skip Wimbledon in 2009 and last year, while the 2012-2015 seasons saw him lose to Lukas Rosol (No. 100), Steve Darcis (No. 135), Nick Kyrgios (No. 144) and Dustin Brown (No. 102).

In that spell, a fourth-round run in 2014 was his best effort.

Nadal admits that if he suffers with his knees on the Wimbledon grass, where the lower bounce of the ball piles more pressure on the legs and joints, then his visit to London may again be short-lived.

"I love grass, everybody knows, and it's a surface that I really enjoyed a lot playing on. And I missed playing at Wimbledon," the world No. 2 said. "So I hope that my knees hold well and I can have the preparation that I really need and the preparation that I want.

"So if that happens, why not? If I have pain in the knees, then I know from experience that it's almost impossible. Because I need to feel strong and have low, powerful legs to play well in Wimbledon."

Before his title triumph on Sunday, his most recent Grand Slam title came in Paris in 2014 and he admitted that there were doubts over whether or not he'd recover his former powers.

"I have doubts every day but that's good as it makes me work hard with more intensity," he said. "You have to be humble and accept that you have to work to improve things. I have doubts today, I had doubts in the last three years, I will have doubts in a few days.

"Life is never clear. If you have no doubts, then you are very arrogant. I am not an arrogant person."

His form makes him an early favourite at the All England club, alongside Federer, seven-time Major champion Mats Wilander said.

The Swede, hosting Eurosport's Game Set and Mats programme in Paris, said: "Nadal has changed his game and he is playing way more aggressive, closer to the baseline, it's a different Nadal.

"For me, he's favourite with Federer but Federer won't have the confidence of coming in as French Open champion."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2017, with the headline 'Rafa eyes a revival on grass'. Print Edition | Subscribe