In the lead-up to Wimbledon, we're asking six burning questions—three about the men's field and three about the women's field—about the 131st edition of the Championships. Click here to read them all.
Rafael Nadal was unstoppable during the clay-court season, but he’s hardly been a threat on grass since 2011. What are realistic expectations for him at Wimbledon?
After Roger Federer, Nadal is probably the most intriguing player in the men’s field. He put on a clinic during the clay season, perhaps looking as good as he has—if not better—in three years. The numbers on dirt jump out at you: 24-1 with four titles, including two Masters trophies in Monte Carlo and Madrid and his 10th French Open title.
Grass, of course, is a different story for the world No. 2. He’s certainly no slouch on the surface, having won titles at the All England Club in 2008 and 2010, but he was a different player back then. It’s been a long time since he’s reigned supreme at the Championships: Since 2011, when he lost in the final to Novak Djokovic, he’s gone down in the second round, first round, fourth round and second round again. Last year he missed the tournament for the first time since 2009 because of a wrist injury.
He played a ton of tennis in April, May and early June, and was smart to pull out of last week’s tournament in London to rest. Yes, playing Queen’s Club would have given him his first taste of grass this season and prepared him for Wimbledon, but staying healthy—especially at this point in his career—is a much higher priority.
Nadal made the following announcement via Facebook on June 13: “At 31, and after a long clay-court season with all of the emotions of Roland Garros, and after speaking to my team and doctors, I have decided my body needs to rest if I am going to be ready to play Wimbledon.”
Makes perfect sense.
But his withdrawal will leave him cold—as far as the surface goes—going into Wimbledon, and considering his last grass match was nearly two years ago, the transition and relative unfamiliarity could be too much to overcome.
So even though Nadal, along with Federer, has been the best in the world this year, it’s not fair to expect a title from him in England. Could he win the whole thing? Of course—if you’ve watched him play even a little bit this year, you know that he’s a serious threat at every tournament he enters. It shouldn’t be final or bust, though, or even semifinal or bust. Realistically, a fair expectation for Rafa is a run to the quarterfinals. Anything more would be quite an achievement. An earlier exit would certainly qualify as a disappointment.