LONDON -- Rafael Nadal hasn’t won back-to-back matches at the All England Club since he lost the final to Novak Djokovic in 2011, but he insists that he feels much better coming into Wimbledon this year compared to the last two. The two-time champion lost in the first round to Belgian journeyman Steve Darcis last year. The year before he was blasted off the court by Lukas Rosol. This year Nadal gears up for Wimbledon having lost the only grass court match he’s played, a straight set defeat at the hands of Dustin Brown last week in Halle, Germany.
“Personally I feel that I am doing things better,” Nadal told reporters during his pre-tournament press conference on Saturday. “I am able to move myself more free now. I’m not scared about my knee. That’s the most important thing for me.
“But then it is true for the last couple of years I didn’t play a lot of matches on grass. But I am confident that I can do it again. Not talking about [winning], talking about [playing] better than what I did last couple of years on grass.”
Nadal described Wimbledon as “the most dangerous tournament of the year.” Coming just two weeks after the tour’s two-month-long clay season, there’s little time to prepare for the unpredictable surface.
“When I arrived to Roland Garros I already played for one month on clay,” Nadal said. “I played a lot of matches. So more or less I can imagine how I am going to play. U.S. Open is the same. Australia, [it's] true that it is the beginning of the season, but is a surface that we know so it is not a dramatic change, no? Here, yes. Especially the beginning of the tournament the courts are a little bit faster. The feeling on court is a little bit strange for everybody. Especially the top players have really more pressure.”
Seven-time champion Roger Federer agreed. “I think [Nadal] might be slightly more vulnerable in the early rounds, but [just] like most of the guys,” Federer said. “This new, fresh, lush grass -- we’re not quite used to it. As you go deeper in the tournament, it becomes more clay ‘courty,’ hard ‘courty,’ with a bit of grass on it. It’s easier to move. The ball bounces a bit higher; it becomes more what we’re used to. I think the early rounds are key for most of the top guys. I think we’re talking about the first two rounds in particular. “
Added Novak Djokovic: “It’s very tricky for top players. Still you don’t feel comfortable. The players you are playing against who are lower ranked, they have played a tournament or two before coming in so they have more matches. They have nothing to lose.”
This year, Nadal opens against Martin Klizan on Tuesday, with a rematch against Lukas Rosol possible in the second round. “If you are able to win a few matches, you have the feeling you are in the tournament and everything becomes a little bit more logical,” Nadal said.
For now Nadal is focused on putting his recent losing streak on grass behind him. He flew home to Mallorca, Spain after Halle and spent the time resting his back, which was put under stress during the French Open. Since arriving to London he says he’s been putting more hours than usual on the practice court and he’s pleased with how his body has responded.
“The sport in general is about victories, [it's] not about losses,” Nadal said. “That’s my feeling. In the end, everybody remembers the winner. Everybody remembers the victories and nobody remembers the losses. So it doesn’t matter if you play so badly for two months and you lose eight first rounds in a row and then you arrive to Wimbledon and you win Wimbledon. Nobody will remember about that two months that you played bad. Everybody will remember about your victory in Wimbledon. That’s sport. The winner takes it all.”