LONDON: Rafael Nadal remains the king of clay, but the world number one arrives at Wimbledon harbouring only slender hopes of winning the tournament for the first time since 2010.
Nadal extended his incredible record on the red dirt of Roland Garros earlier this month as he crushed Dominic Thiem to win his 11th French Open title.
The Spaniard has enjoyed another golden period on his favoured clay this year, claiming the Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome titles as well as his latest triumph in Paris.
That dominant streak extended Nadal’s impressive renaissance after two years of injury woe.
He has won three of the last five Grand Slams, taking the French Open two years in a row and lifting the US Open trophy in 2017.
But, while the 32-year-old’s superiority on clay is unquestioned, Nadal has found it far harder to transfer that dominance to the All England Club’s lawns in the latter stages of his career.
The 17-time Grand Slam champion won the most recent of his two Wimbledon titles eight years ago and hasn’t been past the last 16 since 2011.
Nadal has admitted in the past that he finds it hard to make the transition from clay to grass.
The low bounce on grass threatens to aggravate the knee injuries that have plagued him for years.
With that in mind, Nadal decided to withdraw from last week’s Wimbledon warm-up at Queen’s Club to rest his aching body after the gruelling clay campaign.
“I had a very intense campaign on clay and my body needed rest because drastic changes are not good,” Nadal said.
“I had to spend time adapting physically and in my tennis to the surface.
“I will certainly arrive at Wimbledon with less preparation, but I’m going with confidence high because I played very well through the whole clay-court season.”
Nadal has been preparing for Wimbledon by training for the past week on the grass courts of the Mallorca Open near his home in Manacor.
Tale of woe
During that training block he suffered a scare after appearing to twist his ankle.
But Nadal, who hasn’t played a competitive match since the French Open, appeared to recover quickly and will take part in exhibition matches near London this week in a bid to hone his grass game.
Even so, his absence from Queen’s and the subsequent lack of grass game-time raises doubts about his chances of a third title at Wimbledon, which starts its 150th edition on Monday.
Nadal did receive a boost on Sunday when he regained top spot in the ATP rankings from Roger Federer after his old rival’s surprise defeat against Borna Coric in the Halle final.
Between them, Federer and Nadal have won the last six major titles, the old rivals sharing them out with three each.
But it is Federer who heads to London as the reigning Wimbledon champion, with the Swiss legend favoured to win the tournament for the ninth time after resting during the clay season.
Although Nadal reached five successive Wimbledon finals from 2006 to 2011 — discounting his 2009 absence due to injury — the tournament has become a house of horrors for him lately.
His tale of woe started in 2012 with a stunning loss to world number 100 Lukas Rosol.
There was worse to come for Nadal in 2013 when unheralded Belgian Steve Darcis dumped him out and a year later Nick Kyrgios, ranked 144, inflicted yet more misery on the Spaniard.
Dread-locked Dustin Brown was the next player outside the top 100 to send Nadal home early in 2015 and last year’s calamity came against Luxembourg journeyman Gilles Muller in a five-set marathon.