Nadal's Grass-Court Trials, 2012-14
Rafael Nadal has experienced extremes on grass. After two runner-up finishes at Wimbledon, he produced a major masterpiece outdueling Roger Federer in the thrilling 2008 final, widely regarded as a match for the ages. But he's also suffered some of his most punishing losses on lawn.
The world No. 1 withstood a challenge from his 2012 conqueror, Lukas Rosol, with a hard-fought four-set victory today. The win sent Nadal into the third round of Wimbledon for the first time since 2011, when he reached his fifth straight final at The Championships.
Here, a review Rafa's most recent losses on grass—and today's comeback win.
2014 Wimbledon Second Round: Defeats No. 52 Lukas Rosol, 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-4
Lightning rarely strikes the same spot twice, but Rosol's thunderous serve shook Nadal for two sets. The Czech, who was up a set and a break, was two points from a two-set lead at 5-3 in the tiebreaker. Nadal answered the flashback with a comeback. The second seed saved a set point by whipping a forehand winner down the line at 5-6 in the breaker, then snatched the 57-minute second set on a Rosol double fault. "[It was] very important to win that second set; if not playing against a big server like Rosol you're in big, big danger," said Nadal, who committed just 11 errors in avenging his 2012 upset loss.
2014 Halle Round of 16: Loses to No. 85 Dustin Brown, 6-4, 6-1
Four days after Nadal's run to a record-extending ninth Roland Garros title, he hit a dread end on the grass of Halle. Dreadlocks bouncing off his back, Dustin Brown banged five of his 11 aces and won 16 of 18 points played on his serve in the second set. Arching a running rainbow lob over Nadal's head to break for a 4-0 second-set lead, the German wild card wrapped up a 60-minute triumph he called "the best game of my life," denying the Spaniard his 700th career victory. Nadal fell to 1-3 in Halle, with all three losses coming to German opponents.
2013 Wimbledon First Round: Loses to No. 135 Steve Darcis, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (8), 6-4
The 5'10" Belgian nicknamed "Shark" shaped up as first-round bait for Rafa. Nadal had reached the final in all nine of his tournament starts of 2013, was eager to erase memories of his 2012 second-round upset loss to Rosol, and had lost just one game to Darcis in their lone prior meeting. But Darcis attacked with more bite, striking 53 winners (including 13 aces) in a stupefying upset that was the first Grand Slam opening-round loss of Nadal's career. "Maybe he didn't play his best match. But I have to be proud of me," said Darcis, who arrived on No. 1 Court with just one Wimbledon win and walked off with a shocking victory.
2012 Wimbledon Second Round: Loses to No. 100 Lukas Rosol, 6-7 (9), 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4
Fading light brought out the retractable roof over Centre Court; Rosol blasted 22 aces to close the curtain on the two-time champion. Nadal had reached five consecutive Wimbledon finals while the 100th-ranked Rosol had never won a grass-court match prior to reaching the third round of Queen's Club weeks earlier. But the 26-year-old burst from obscurity by playing boldly. Closing with command, Rosol ripped three aces and rapped a forehand winner, falling to his knees as the crowd erupted in a collective roar. Nadal did not play poorly—he committed just 16 unforced errors—but could not solve Rosol, who said afterward: "I'm not just surprised; it's like a miracle for me."
2012 Halle Quarterfinals: Loses to No. 34 Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-3, 6-4
Winless in eight prior meetings with Nadal, Kohlschreiber served with authority, dropping just three points on his first serve and denying all three break points he faced. Nadal, struggling with the transition from clay to grass, couldn't find his rhythm or return. Stepping into the court, Kohlschreiber cracked a cross-court backhand to break for a 4-3 second set lead. He sealed the victory with a serve-and-volley to complete a victory that had major repurcussions: Weeks later, Rosol toppled Nadal at Wimbledon.
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