Rafael Nadal raises his fists into the bright London skies above Wimbledon’s Centre Court. His opponent, Juan Martin Del Potro, is lying on the sandy grass, completely gassed after what has just transpired.
In a near five hour, five-set thriller, Nadal defeated Del Potro 7-5, 6-7, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. It was a test of nerves. It was a battle between two superstar players, producing powerful groundstrokes and remarkable shots throughout the match. While Del Potro could sniff the finish line being up two sets to one, the brilliance of the bullfighter Nadal in the final two sets is a testament to his persevering, never give up temperament.
Staving off a bunch of break point opportunities for the Argentine, the Spaniard crafted brilliant angles on his groundstrokes, battling the fatigue and adversity of the moment to finally come out on top. When the two players embraced in front of the raucous Wimbledon crowd, they demonstrated the gifted sportsmanship that can often be so hard to express after such a draining match.
“It was a very emotional match with a great quality of tennis especially in the last set,” Nadal said after the match.
“I’m sorry for Juan Martin. He’s an amazing opponent and amazing player. In some ways he deserved victory too.”
Del Potro once again gained a lot of fans and respect in such a heartbreaking defeat. But for Nadal, at a mere 32 years of age, he is consistently raising the bar on the tennis court, beating Father Time to claim his place as the best player in the world.
Rafael Nadal Finally Breaks Streak of Disappointing Wimbledon Results
A decade flies by fast. It was 10 years ago that Rafael Nadal took the torch of being the world’s top player from Roger Federer’s grasp when he defeated the Swiss maestro in five sets at the Wimbledon final. While already considered the King of Clay, many tennis pundits believed that Nadal was a one surface player, not having the game to be a force on faster surfaces.
The great Spaniard worked extra hard, putting in the long hours in practice to ensure that his groundstrokes and serve that have dominated players on clay, could be replicated on the grass and hard courts. Since 2008, Nadal has added another Wimbledon to his trophy case, defeating Tomas Berdych in straight sets at the 2010 Final. He would make it to the Final again the following year, losing to Serbian Novak Djokovic in four sets.
But then injuries starting plaguing Nadal and for the next few years, he had incredibly disappointing Wimbledon results. At the 2012 Wimbledon, he would bow out in the second round to Czech player Lukas Rosol in five sets. The following year, the Spaniard would lose in the first round to Steve Darcis. Nick Kyrigos in 2014 would make his name known around the tour after beating Nadal early in the tournament in four sets. The Spaniard would even lose to a qualifier in Dustin Brown at Wimbledon in 2015.
Rafael Nadal Emulating Grass Court Performances of a Wimbledon Champion
Many experts and fans were starting to believe that the end of Nadal’s career was fast approaching. In 2016, he would miss the Wimbledon Championships due to injury, forcing many people to wonder whether we have seen the last of the Spaniard’s greatness on the grass.
But since coming back from injury, Nadal has won three majors, two French Opens and one US Open. He also made the Australian Open Final back in 2017, only to lose to the Swiss Maestro Federer in five sets.
It is clear that Nadal has kept in shape and still maintained a high level of physical fitness. He can still defend the full length of the court, going after every ball and whipping powerful groundstrokes. In the match against Del Potro, Nadal covered over 16000 feet during the entirety of the match. He won 74% of his first serve points and 62% of his second serve points, producing the type of effective serving statistics on grass that got Nadal to two Wimbledon Championships. His 67 winners to only 34 unforced errors against the Argentine demonstrate why the Spaniard superstar has the powerful arsenal of groundstrokes and a mixture of shots to beat anyone on the ATP Tour.
No Rest for Nadal Against Rival Djokovic
Fatigue will now play a factor for Nadal, especially in his semifinal match as he renews his storied rivalry against Djokovic. This is the 52nd time these two will square off against each other. Djokovic leads 26-25 in the rivalry but Nadal has his number at Grand Slam tournaments, having a 9-4 record over the Serbian. The last time these two faced off at a Grand Slam event was when Djokovic beat Nadal at the 2015 French Open.
Two players with very similar defensive, powerful games, it should feature lots of long, grueling, entertaining points. Djokovic is coming off a four-set victory over Kei Nishikori, where he started looking like his former self that has won 12 Major championships. His serve was aggressive, converting 85% of his first serve points. He won 28 more points than Nishikori and started showcasing his relentless defense. Covering the length of the court and countering Nadal’s aggressive style of play will be crucial for Djokovic, who is trying to get back to his first Grand Slam Final since the 2016 French Open.
“I like the level of tennis that I’m playing on right now. I really do,” said Djokovic. “I think with the performances I’ve had, I deserve to be in the semifinals. I don’t want to stop here. I hope I can get a chance to fight for a trophy.”
There is no better golden opportunity for Nadal than now to capture his third Wimbledon title. On the other half of the draw in the semis are Kevin Anderson, who rallied to defeat Roger Federer in five sets, and John Isner, both having never won a Grand Slam tournament before.
It will no doubt be difficult. But the Spaniard has been in difficult moments before throughout his career. Pressure is a privilege for tennis players like Nadal and it’s safe to not act surprised by his stellar level of excellence.
While he is getting up in age, there are no signs that this Spanish tennis superstar is slowing down, cementing himself in the conversation as one of tennis’s all-time greats.
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