Rafael Nadal – No Longer a Wimbledon Favorite?

After the brilliant period Rafael Nadal went through in the clay portion of the 2012 tennis season, which included winning the French Open and beating Novak Djokovic in three consecutive finals, came the fall, to the surprise of many, in an early round on the Halle Grass.

Nadal had one easy win over Lukas Lacko before getting stung and stunned by the world’s number 34, Philipp Kohlschreiber, losing 3-6, 4-6. Instead of moving on to London and refining his obviously less than perfect situation on grass before Wimbledon begins (June 25), Nadal took a few days off and returned home, to Spain.

Maybe he should have given up on the tournament altogether, just like Novak Djokovic, who decided to rest for the week instead of trying to win a grass tournament in preparation for his bid to win a second Wimbledon title? Nadal doesn’t think so.

I have played the week after the French Open for eight years with the exception of 2009 when I was injured. It has always worked out fantastically for me. Even if I lost, the two matches and the practice I have had here have helped me a lot. I hope to be back again next year.

Halle is usually Roger Federer’s domain, where he has won five tournaments since 2003, more than any other player on tour. Kohlschreiber enjoyed Federer’s absence from the tournament last season to pick up the prize himself which might make his win a bit less surprising. Still, beating Nadal after the world’s number two won 12 consecutive matches, dropping only one set along the way does shake the foundations a bit.

On the grass courts, if you are not full of confidence, then all matches are a lottery, particularly over three sets. This is not the time to look for excuses or to ask the reasons why I lost. My movement wasn’t great and I need a little more time to make adjustments to my shots. 

I will rest at home. I can’t practise on grass there but it’s better not to practise for a few days. It’s time to rest with my family, friends, to relax. I’ve played almost every match possible since Indian Wells. When I’m ready to come back, I’ll go to Wimbledon.

Nadal’s off-clay season has been far from perfect. He lost in the season opening tournament to Gael Monfils, the semifinals in Qatar. He had an impressive Australian Open, with an exhausting finish – Beating Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals after four sets. The Semi Finals were another four set triumph, this time over Roger Federer. The finals were a continuation of the 2011 season, losing to Novak Djokovic in a five set marathon.

He took some time off to recover from his hurting shoulder and finished the Indian Wells as a semi finalist, beaten by Roger Federer in the Semi Final. He didn’t even come up to play against Andy Murray in the Miami Semi Final, his injuries getting the best of him again. It’s safe to assume he isn’t heading into the Wimbledon tournament 100% confident about his chances.

Like Nadal said, it’s a lot about confidence when you play on grass. His physical and crunching style that makes him pretty much invincible on clay doesn’t always have the same effect on grass. Still, Nadal has won two Wimbledon titles in his career and has made the finals three more times. Only in 2009 has his final streak in London been halted due to missing the tournament completely.

Nadal doesn’t need to win a preparation grass tournament to feel good about Wimbledon, but his season as a whole, when he’s not on clay, has to be making him a bit cautious about his chances. Not just exhaustion or injuries stand in the way of winning on the grass for a third time. Novak Djokovic will come rested and hungry, while Federer, despite an anti-climatic exit in Paris, is still looking to extend his lead at the top of the Grand Slam charts.

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