Rafael Nadal is playing some excellent tennis this year and has bounced back in spectacular fashion after some troublesome injuries had blighted his form in 2015 and 2016. It looked as if those injuries could bring an end to ‘The King of Clay’s’ career but somehow he has fought his way back to the top and is now playing some of his best tennis ever.
The 33-year-old looks back to his very best this calendar year. He performed exceptionally in the Australian Open, a tournament he has only won once in his career, and missed out in the final to the dominant Novak Djokovic. The Serbian has been incredible down under and not even Nadal could stop him as he won his seventh title in January of this year.
Next up for the Spaniard was the French Open, and at Roland Garros, he is simply untouchable. He made it three successive wins at the tournament and twelve in total, beating Roger Federer in the semi-final before overcoming Dominic Thiem in the final, to assert his claim as the best ever player on the orange surface.
And so to Wimbledon, and the semi-final against his historic rival Federer. The two will meet for the first time at the All England Club since that epic final in 2008 and tennis fans all over the world will be hoping for a repeat of that match. Nadal came out on top in that meeting and has looked seriously impressive at SW19 this year, dropping just one set to the mercurially talented Nick Kyrgios in round two.
The Spaniard has not had an easy route through to this stage, beating the aforementioned Kyrgios as well as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Sam Querrey in later rounds. Now just Federer can prevent him from reaching his sixth Wimbledon final and attempting to win his third title. His current run of 17 straight wins is truly remarkable and if he can make it 18 wins and make the final he will likely face world number one Novak Djokovic. Nadal can take heart from the fact that he has beaten him this season already, albeit on clay in the final of the Italian Open.
He would be the underdog in that potential final but that often is where Nadal plays his best tennis, on the back foot where his defensive game can flourish. That is the strength of Rafa and although Djokovic is also in a rich vein of form in 2019, Nadal’s potential victory at Wimbledon this year would go down as one of his greatest Grand Slam wins.
The final major tournament of the year, the US Open, has been a relatively happy hunting ground for Nadal in recent years but that it took until 2010 for him to pick up the trophy for the first time, and it was the last remaining Grand Slam trophy missing from his collection. He also won the title in 2013 and most recently in 2017, and will look to make it four successes in New York this year.
Only once before has Nadal won three of the four majors in one year. That was back in 2010 when only a surprising quarter-final exit at the Australian Open, to countryman David Ferrer, prevented him from winning the fabled Calendar Slam. Nine years have passed since that epic season and it would take something special for him to surpass that in the second half of this year but it is not out of his reach.
Of course, Wimbledon remains the main focus for Nadal and today’s game against Federer will go a long way to ultimately defining his entire season. But the fact he is now playing some of his best tennis at the age of 33 is a testament to his fitness, strength and mental resilience. As a sportsman synonymous with Real Madrid, perhaps he has had a few tips from club legend Cristiano Ronaldo on how to stay at the top of your sport deep into your thirties.
Federer is an all-time great, Djokovic is a winning machine, but write off Rafa Nadal at your own risk.