Tuesday 13 August 2013
Wimbledon.com reflects on Rafael Nadal's post-Wimbledon period, with victory at the Rogers' Cup in Montreal...
Has there ever been a better year for first-round losers at The Championships? Those who were defeated in the first round of this summer's singles tournaments received £23,500, which was a hike of £9,000 on last season's compensation.
But this isn't just about the money; consider Rafa Nadal, The King of The First-Round Losers, who was beaten on the opening day of The Championships by an opponent ranked outside the world's top 100, but who could end the season at the top of the tennis tree. And that's remarkable, when you consider that he missed the opening Grand Slam tournament of the year, January's Australian Open, only returning to competition in February after a seven-month absence because of knee pain. Some wondered whether Nadal would ever be a force again, but he has been munching through titles and ranking points like the Pac-Man of tennis; his victory in Montreal last weekend brought him his eighth trophy from eleven tournaments. One of those titles came at Roland Garros, where he became the first man to win the same major eight times in singles.
Be in no doubt: Nadal's has been one of the great comebacks in tennis history, and that's despite the fact that he lost in the first round at Wimbledon to Belgium's Steve Darcis (who, because of an injury, didn't play his next match).
Thanks to his victory over Canada's Milos Raonic at the Rogers Cup, Nadal swapped places with David Ferrer in this week's ranking list, going from fourth to third, and there is a possibility that he could end the season above Andy Murray, who is currently second, and Novak Djokovic, who holds the number one ranking. Since Nadal missed last year's North American hard-court swing, he doesn't have any points to defend, and so he has a big opportunity at the US Open, which starts in under a fortnight, to make a big move. Djokovic and Murray have contested two of the three slam finals so far this year - the Serbian winning the Australian Open, and the Briton winning Wimbledon - but if Nadal is in good health at Flushing Meadows, the 2010 champion is going to be take some stopping on the New York concrete.
In previous years, Nadal has sometimes looked a little weary on arrival in New York, after all the effort he has put into playing Roland Garros and Wimbledon. But this summer the signs are that he will start the US Open a little fresher. While Nadal plainly didn't want to lose early at the All England Club - he would have loved to have won the tournament - having most of the Wimbledon fortnight off meant that he is now well-rested. And his knees are holding up on hard courts; indeed, going into this week's tournament in Cincinnati, he was unbeaten in his 10 matches on the surface this year, as he also won the title at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in the spring (his record on all surfaces, before he swung a racket in Cincinnati, was an impressive 48 victories from 51 appearances).
Nadal, who is so far the only singles player to have qualified for the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London in November, doesn't need to be told what he has to do to regain the top ranking. No one knows the workings of the ranking computer better than Nadal does. So he is fully aware that he could end the season at the top of the list. "I feel I have an advantage, but not enough to say that I am the favourite. On this kind of surface, Novak is really good. There remain three Masters 1000s, one grand slam and the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals - and all of those are on more favourable surfaces for him than for me," Nadal has said. While Djokovic didn't like being smacked in the face by Nadal during their semi-final in Canada - it was an accident - he will like it even less if he is nudged off the top of the rankings by the Majorcan, The King of the First-Round Losers.
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