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Saturday, 1 July 2017 14:59 PM BST
Nadal wary of grass court traps
Six years after his last Wimbledon final, Nadal expects another tough test READ MORE

“Thump! Thump!” A familiar sound rolled over the grounds of the All England Club on Saturday morning: Rafael Nadal, white baseball cap back-to-front,  was ripping tennis balls and grunting heavily on Court 14, with his long-time coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, by his side.

It’s been two years since the Spaniard last played Wimbledon and six years since he appeared in a final. But having won an incredible 10th French Open title three weeks ago, can the two-time Wimbledon champion break his grass-court duck this year?

Let's see what's going on this year,” Nadal, still sweating profusely from his practice session, told reporters at Wimbledon.

“I know is always difficult,” said the 15-time Grand Slam winner. “I am excited to be playing again here, in a tournament that I really love. I really enjoy playing. But at the same time I tell you, is a tournament that you can go out very early.”

The Spanish No.2 seed hasn’t gone beyond the last 16 since he was a runner-up to Novak Djokovic in 2011. Since then, his Wimbledon dream has turned into a nightmare as he was knocked out early by players ranked outside the top 100 four years in a row. Last year, he missed the event because of a wrist injury.

Although Nadal was scheduled to play at London’s Queen’s Club the week after Roland Garros, he pulled out after winning in Paris citing an exhausting clay-court campaign. He has since been practising on the grass courts of the women’s Mallorca Open.

With Rafa, the big difference is the confidence

- Chris Evert

Last week, he played an exhibition match at London’s Hurlingham Club, losing in straight sets to former Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych. Much will depend on how he gets through the first rounds.

“If I am able to go through at the beginning, I think I am with confidence,” said Nadal, who was a runner-up to Roger Federer in the Australian Open final at the start of the season. “I am playing well since the beginning of the season, so let's see.”

This could be Nadal’s year again, according to 18-time Grand Slam singles winner Chris Evert.

“With Rafa, the big difference is the confidence,” she said on a conference call hosted by US broadcaster ESPN last week. “He's stepping in, moving in. When he wasn't confident, he was six to 10 feet behind the baseline on every surface, just counterpunching, just retrieving,” said the American, a three-time Wimbledon winner.

“If it's a good grass court, if it's playing like a good grass court does, I think he's going to feel very comfortable,” Evert said.

When asked about his favourite Wimbledon memory, Nadal didn’t have to think long.

“For me is easy, 2008,” he said, referring to his dramatic final against Federer, which has since gone down as one of the best tennis matches ever played.

“Playing here in Wimbledon for me has been very, very special,” said Nadal, who faces world No.137 Australian John Millman in the first round. “Was one of the biggest goals that I have when I start to have success in this sport, play well in this tournament.”

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