In recent years, the grass courts of the All England Tennis Club have witnessed many astonishing matches. However, few were of the quality of last year’s semifinal between Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
To many, myself included, 2018 was considered to be Nadal’s best chance of winning a third title at SW19. The Spaniard played great tennis in the first week and recorded an impressive victory in an epic quarterfinal with Juan Martin del Potro. With Roger Federer knocked out by Kevin Anderson and Nadal playing some of his most inspired grass court tennis in years, it looked like it was all setting up to be Nadal’s year. However, Novak Djokovic played his best match since the 2016 Roland Garros final under the roof of Centre Court and a heartbroken Nadal left the court with many fans wondering whether his goose was cooked in regards to winning a third Wimbledon title.
Nadal’s 2019 at SW19
A year on, Nadal has battled his way through a tough first week, and has looked as impressive on the grass as he has ever been. When the draw came out, many wouldn’t have fancied his chances. However, out of the Big 3, it is Nadal that has produced the best tennis.
After a routine first round victory against Japan’s Yuichi Sugita, Nadal faced the daunting challenge of facing Nick Kyrgios in Round 2. Many saw another Wimbledon upset on the cards. However, from the very start of the match, the Spaniard looked dialed in and ready for the fight, taking the first set 6-3. Despite suffering a mental blip in the second set, Nadal played the better tennis in the big moments in the match, noticeably in the third set tiebreak. He employed his tactics to perfection, taking pace of the ball when hitting to the Australian’s two handed backhand, this neutralising one of his biggest weapons. He was also able to hold serve with relative easy, rattling Kyrgios and recording an impressive four set victory.
However, in the next round, on paper at least, the opponents weren’t getting any easier. Jo Wilfred Tsonga has played some of his finest tennis of his career on the lawns of SW19, and another potential banana skin was in the works for Nadal. Although I expected him to come through it, I expected a tough four or five setter. However, yet again, Nadal produced a dominating display of tennis to record a surprisingly easy straight sets victory. Despite the Frenchman not producing anywhere near his best level of tennis, Nadal looked focused and was clinical, dropping only seven games.
What’s next for Nadal?
So where does this leave Nadal heading into the second week? Thanks to a number of upsets, Nadal faces a considerably easier fourth round on paper that the draw would’ve suggested, facing Jao Sousa instead of the big serving Croatian and former Wimbledon finalist Marin Cilic. That’s no disrespect to Sousa, but Cilic has the bigger weapons and grass court pedigree. In the quarters, he could face the big serving American and 2017 semifinalist Sam Querrey, but with the form Nadal is in I think he should win those matches in straight sets.
Mouth-watering matches with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic remain on course in the semi-inals and final. With many players reporting that the courts are playing slower and with the weather looking good (so no need for the roof) conditions are playing into Nadal’s hand, and if he continues to play at the level and intensity he has shown in the first week, there is a real possibility of him lifting his third Wimbledon title.
However it is important to remain cautious as we have seen this all before. At the Australian Open this year, Rafa blitzed his way to the final, destroying all the players in his path. He was the best player overall of the two weeks. However Novak Djokovic produced, in my opinion, the match of his career to comfortably defeat Nadal in straight sets in the final.
It is important to err on the side of caution. However, heading into the second week, things are beginning to look a lot brighter for Rafael Nadal’s prospects of lifting a third Wimbledon title.
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