Wimbledon 2013: Rafael Nadal bids for a 13th Grand Slam
Wimbledon 2013: Oisin Gregorian takes a look at Rafael Nadal's bid to win a third SW19 title and 13th Grand Slam crown
Eight times they’ve seen it; eight times they’ve applauded it. A winner, an unforced error; both accompanied that fall to the clay in jubilation.
This year, however, it was different for Rafael Nadal.
It wasn’t just the record that he just broken; it wasn’t just the fact he fought back from the brink against one of his more recent equals in Novak Djokovic in the previous round – it was also the fact that the Spaniard and former world number one had once again overcome a career-threatening injury – re-announcing himself to the sporting world in the process.
The Spaniard stood tall on Phillipe Chatrier a fortnight ago, ceremoniously biting the tip of the La Coupe des Mousquetaires that both his fans and neutrals had become accustomed to. Nadal’s joy in an eight French Open title was warming, despite the image being so common over the last half a decade.
With this, there was a relief to match the joy; a relief that had suitably erased those months rehab under a year ago. Nadal knew this, as did Uncle Toni and his entourage looking down on him from the stands.
Now with his 12th Grand Slam at age 27, questions will undoubtedly be asked as to where the Spaniard can potentially go from here.
In the short term, a further shot at Wimbledon for a third success on grass is the immediate plan. Should a further US Open be added to this come the end of the summer, Nadal could have 14 Grand Slam titles at an age where Roger Federer, the player the rest of the big four wish to catch and eclipse, had amassed just one more of his seventeen accumulated to date.
Though easier said than done, particularly after being seeded fifth for this year’s Championships which start on Monday, if this was to be accomplished by season’s end, the Spaniard stands on the cusp of potential history.
The stats make for interesting reading.
Since the end of the 2009 season, Federer, then 28, has only since managed to add a further two Grand Slam titles, along with two World Tour Finals and Olympic silver medal in-between. Beforehand, the Swiss was near-untouchable.
Enter Nadal, and later Djokovic and Andy Murray, and the Swiss’ plans to reach an unprecedented target of 20 slams have since been dramatically stunted.
Take nothing away from Federer and what he’s done for the men’s game. But, despite being in Federer’s shadow during the latter’s golden years and historically being the first player to get in under his skin, Nadal’s age and current position has got the tennis world excited once more.
However, within the Spaniard’s locker room, an elephant remains, and that is his fitness.
Following two separate bouts of tendonitis since 2010, doubts remain over the Spaniard’s ability to stay injury free in the long-term and whether or not Nadal’s perceived route back to the top can be accomplished over the next few years, before age inevitably catches up on him.
Federer’s place in the annals of sporting history is permanent, that’s a fact. But given the manner in which a certain Spaniard, blessed with raw talent and a brutal left forehand, was able to come in and play the natural game of the apprentice beating the master, there is no doubting that his own place is just as permanent.
The 2013 Championships have the potential to be the most competitive in recent years.
Should Nadal win a third title as a fifth seed in order to push on from Roland Garros and onto this perceived history, plenty of obstacles lie in his way.
Most notably in the form of a Serbian desperate for instantaneous revenge; a Swiss who still harbours a dream of being the outright record-holder of most Wimbledon singles titles, and a crowd favourite from Scotland – to whom the crowd expect a repeat of a certain Olympic performance just under a year ago.
Truly, whoever ends these Championships as outright winner will be a deserved one.