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Rafael Nadal can reach a first Wimbledon final since 2011 after comprehensively winning his 11th French Open title on Sunday. Nadal beat Dominic Thiem in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 at Roland-Garros, showcasing the power, experience and skill sure to make him one of the player’s to beat at the All England Club in July.
Securing another French Open title shows Nadal is in peak form in time for Wimbledon. However, he still faces an uphill battle improving his performances on grass in recent years.
The momentum and confidence accrued from yet another Roland Garros win will be a boost. As will a stronger and more efficient service game.
Here are some predictions for how Nadal will fare at Wimbledon:
Paris Momentum and More Efficient Serve will Carry Nadal Past Round 4
Dominating on the red clay in Paris has become routine for Nadal, but the 32-year-old has found things tougher on grass in recent years. Although he won Wimbledon in 2008 and 2010, the Spaniard hasn’t got past the fourth round since losing to Novak Djokovic in the final seven years ago.
To change his fortunes, Nadal will need to transfer the serving power he dismantled many with at Roland Garros to Wimbledon. Staying strong on serve carried Nadal to a swift first-set win over Thiem, with Christopher Clarey of the New York Times breaking down his success:
Christopher Clarey @christophclarey
1st serve points won Nadal 76% Thiem 65% 2d serve points won Nadal 56% Thiem 48% 1st serve percentage Nadal 65% Thiem 45% Trouble for Thiem long term in this match if these trend lines continue
Fittingly, it was a powerful serve which sealed the championship for Nadal on Sunday, as Thiem’s weak return went wide.
A bigger serve bodes well for Nadal ahead of Wimbledon, where he’ll need to speed up his game for the grass. Being able to play quicker will let Nadal go further than in recent years.
He should be buoyed by continuing his already remarkable record in Paris. While winning the French Open has become routine, the confidence gained from his latest triumph will set Nadal up for a run at next month’s final.
Range of Shots and Experience will Power Nadal to the Final
A feature of Nadal’s latest French Open winning campaign was the variety and range of his shots. He mixed things up effectively against Juan Martin del Potro in the last four and Thiem in the final.
Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated noted one particularly useful shot Nadal has leaned on so far in 2018:
Jon Wertheim @jon_wertheim
Would like to see data on how often Nadal has used the drop shot (effectively) this year versus prior years. #RG18
Yet Nadal hasn’t just tried something new. He’s also improved and refined a core shot in his game, according to Tennis.com’s Matt Cronin:
Matt Cronin @TennisReporters
Its so incredible that Nadal and Roger Federer improved there backhands, starting in 2016, more depth, harder, more confident, swing it out. That’s why RN and RF continue to be the best ever, hands down
Cronin’s reference to Roger Federer is telling, since the defending Wimbledon champion is the man Nadal is most likely to meet in the final. The two produced an epic instant classic when Nadal beat Federer in 2010.
Experience will be a key factor if the two renew their storied rivalry again. Nadal used his own savvy well during the French Open final, slowing the pace whenever he could to leave Thiem frustrated.
In fact, the 11-time champion pushed the limits of legality by taking his time between points, per Stuart Fraser of The Times:
Stuart Fraser @stu_fraser
The time Rafael Nadal is taking between points (last six): 40 seconds 36 seconds 49 seconds (warned) 46 seconds 38 seconds 34 seconds
Nadal has become a master at setting and controlling tempo in his matches. It’s a skill sure to prove invaluable at Wimbledon, especially when he gets into the later rounds.
Nadal Will Lose Final to Federer
It would make sense for Federer and Nadal to resume their rivalry in a Wimbledon final, since both have continued to boss the Grand Slam scene lately:
David Law @DavidLawTennis
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have split the last 6 male Grand Slam singles titles between them. 2017 Aus Open – Federer RG – Nadal Wimbledon – Federer US Open – Nadal 2018 Aus Open – Federer RG – Nadal
Neither player is showing any signs of slowing down. Their respective winning habits are keeping them at the top of the game, despite the emergence of youthful stars such as Thiem and Alexander Zverev.
The chance for these two greats to contest a Grand Slam title once again will make this year’s edition of Wimbledon a memorable one, albeit with a disappointing ending for Nadal.