Is Rafael Nadal favourite to win Wimbledon?
Nadal is unbeaten at Grand Slams this season and has lost only three times. He has laughed off talk of a calendar year slam but the stats are on his side.
“My intention is to play Wimbledon. Two radiofrequency sessions have been done and the evolution has been satisfactory. I don’t know what might happen in five days. For now, the treatment has allowed me to train and that has made me make the decision to fly to London,” Rafael Nadal said a week ago as he assessed his chances of making the third Grand Slam of the season in SW19. On the eve of the tournament, the Australian and French Open champion appears to be on the right path for a title tilt on the grass of the All-England Club. “I see myself on a clearly upward line,” Nadal told the press on Saturday. The exhibition games have gone pretty well and I have been practicing with demanding people. The idea is to be competitive; we’ll see.”
Nadal’s 2002 season has been following a clear pattern that has been the case during most of the later years of his career: doubts, suffering, sacrifice and, ultimately, glory. Above all, that is true of the major tournaments. Nadal turned up at the Australian Open with barely any match practice, four months after calling a halt to his 2021 season before the US Open due to injuries, and he won. At Roland Garros, his foot issues, caused by Müller-Weiss syndrome, were so severe he didn’t know if he would be able to play from one day to the next. Again, he won.
Nadal on for a calendar year slam
Two Grand Slams and two titles. In winning in Melbourne and Paris, Nadal proved his immense capacity for competing under the toughest of conditions and moved two ahead of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the all-time major title stakes, with 22 now to his name. This year is the first time in his career that Nadal heads into Wimbledon with the possibility of a calendar year slam on the table. Only five other players in the Open Era have won the first two slams of the year: Björn Borg (in the case of the Swede, Roland Garros and Wimbledon as the Australian Open was in that era the last slam of the year) in 1978, 1979 and 1980; Mats Wilander (1988), Jim Courier (1992), Rod Laver, in 1969, when the Australian great pulled off a calendar year slam, and Djokovic (2016 and 2021), who last year came so close to the fabled Golden Slam (which includes the Olympic title), something that has never been achieved in the men’s game and only by Steffi Graf in the history of tennis.
Grass is not Nadal’s natural habitat. Wimbledon, along with the Australian Open, is the major where the Spaniard has been least successful, if two title can be considered as such. However, his numbers continue to be practically unachievable by most other players. Nadal ranks eighth in history in terms of tournament wins (53) and fourth among active players, behind Federer (105), Djokovic (79) and Andy Murray (59). His win rate in SW19 is 81,54%, slightly above is overall record on grass (78%). In his last two appearances at Wimbledon in 2018 and 2019, Nadal reached the semifinals, losing to Djokovic and Federer.
Nadal is playing at Wimbledon for the first time since 2019 and his path won’t be easy, although he has landed on the softer side of the draw. He could face Felix Auger-Aliassime in the quarters, the Young Canadian having taken Nadal to five sets at Roland Garros and who beat the Spaniard at Hurlingham on grass in the lead up to Wimbledon. In the semis he is likely to face either Stefanos Tsitsipas, who won the warm-up event in Mallorca, or last year’s Wimbledon runner-up, Matteo Berrettini. A tough assignment, but Nadal has only been beaten three times this year and only once by a top-10 player, when Carlos Alcaraz defeated his idol in Madrid.
At the slams though, Nadal has been untouchable and has beaten Berrettini and Auger-Aliassime, as well as Daniil Medvedev, Djokovic, Alex Zverev and Casper Ruud.