July 4, 2017
Look into the eyes. The eyes of a winner. Rafael Nadal is not talking like a man short of confidence on grass, or someone simply here to make up the numbers these days.
Rafa is talking like a man who has gone all the way before and intends to do precisely that once more.
‘It’s great to be back at Wimbledon, where I reached the final five times between 2006 and 2011,’ he enthused after beating John Millman 6-1, 6-3, 6-2.
That was a telling remark. He doesn’t want to focus on his recent injuries or failures at Wimbledon any more. He isn’t that shadow of his former self any more.
He may even be better than his former self now – the best Rafael Nadal there has ever been.
That’s the way he talks. That’s the way he looks. That’s the way he plays. His performance at Roland Garros, where he took his tenth title, was more emphatic than ever.
And he clearly feels good on grass again, untroubled by his knees so far, happy with a slightly lower posture because his body isn’t just coping right now – it’s thriving.
No wonder Nadal was keen to rekindle that love affair with the Wimbledon crowd at the end of his opener against the game Australian. He plans to please them for the next fortnight.
He wants the support of as many of the Wimbledon faithful as he can enlist, with epic battles against the likes of Andy Murray, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic waiting further down the line.
Remember, Nadal and Murray are due to meet in the semi-final. That wouldn’t just be a titanic struggle for a place in the final. That would be a straight fight for world domination – the number one spot itself.
From what we have seen so far, Nadal is most likely to prevail – although there is time yet for Murray to improve. And boy, will he have to improve if he wants to stop Rafa.
Could Federer or Djokovic stop the Spanish powerhouse if he makes it through to the showpiece occasion on the second Sunday? Who knows? Even for them, it would be tough.
But guess what? That’s an amazing situation for tennis fans to savour. Semi-finals that deserve to be finals, and a final that could be the greatest ever.
Expect Rafael Nadal to make Wimbledon 2017 extra special. He wants it all. Wimbledon and the world. Just look into those eyes and you’ll see the burning ambition.
He has been waiting a long time to be great again. Pipped by the amazing Federer in Australia, totally imperious in Paris, and determined to keep that triumphant Grand Slam momentum going at Wimbledon.
Who will be world number one at the end of Wimbledon? Anything can happen in this weird and wonderful world of tennis, but at the time of writing it’s hard to see past Nadal.
Contrast Rafa’s fortunes with those of Stan Wawrinka – the world number three. He was defeated by the up-and-coming Daniil Medvedev. Stan just doesn’t like the grass and neither does his body.
Medvedev, only 21 years old, won 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 on Monday. Wawrinka admitted: ‘I didn’t feel the way I wanted to feel and I’ve had problems with my knee since Queen’s.’
But you sense that even a fitter Wawrinka might not have made a big impression on Wimbledon, even though it is the last elusive Grand Slam he needs to make up the full set.
Time is running out for the brilliant Wawrinka if he wants to have a serious tilt at the Wimbledon title while he still has the power and quality to do so.
Will it ever happen? Only if he changes his mindset and finds a way to adapt to the natural surface.
Rafa has the right mindset this year – whatever pressure he has to take on those knees. And make no mistake – Nadal could go all the way. Those eyes are sending out a three-word message: “Try stopping me.”
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