Mats Wilander says that lower-ranked players see grass as an opportunity to get a result against “greatest of all time” Rafael Nadal, but he has also paid tribute to the 22-time Grand Slam winner’s longevity.
Nadal secured his place in round three of Wimbledon following a 6-4 6-4 4-6 6-3 win over Ricardas Berankis - meaning the No. 2 seed remains on course for a record-extending 23rd Grand Slam singles title. The win was Nadal’s 307th win at a Grand Slam tournament; that puts him fourth on the all-time list behind Roger Federer (369), Serena Williams (365) and Novak Djokovic (329).
And after the match, Mats Wilander and Barbara Schett paid tribute to the Spaniard’s longevity.
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“It just speaks to the consistency of even Rafa Nadal,” said Wilander.
“There have been years when he hasn't been able to play Wimbledon but he keeps coming back. The consistency of Roger and Rafa and Novak and Grand Slam tournaments is just unbelievable.
Nadal said that the break in play in the fourth set benefitted him, but Wilander praised Nadal’s ability to get the job done on his worst surface, grass. The seven-time Grand Slam winner Wilander added that lower-ranked players see grass as a great equaliser against Nadal.
“He's 36 years old; he has that tape on his abdominal muscle; he has the foot issue,” Wilander began.
“I think it's good... to take a break [for the rain delay, but] to be able to come out and play this well and to win matches on probably his worst surface in many ways, even though he has won more Wimbledons than Australian Opens.
“Grass courts are a great equaliser for a lot of the lower-ranked players. I think they believe that they might have a small chance to beat even the greatest of all time.”
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Nadal’s participation at Wimbledon, and his career, had – due to a chronic foot injury – been in doubt, but the ‘King of Clay’ says that he does not fear retirement.
“My philosophy is a couple of weeks ago I was close to it. Now I don't feel that way,” he said. “That's my philosophy, no?
“It's something that I am not... I have never had fear about that day. I think I am happy that I have a very happy life outside of tennis, even if tennis is a very important part of my life for the last 30 years. I have been happy outside of tennis, without a doubt. I have a lot of things that I like to do away from tennis, so I am not worried about that.
“But, of course, when that day arrives, it's going to be a change. All the changes in this life take a while. You need to adapt to the changes, no?
“But it's normal that people talk about retirement of the great athletes because in some ways the athletes that have been [around] for such a long time in the top of the game, even more in more popular sports, become part of the life of so many people. It happens to me the same with some football players, with golf players.
“I mean, for example, the person that I love to see, Tiger Woods. Now I'm not able to see Tiger Woods playing that often. In some way, that's a change in my life, too. Probably people will think the same like me, as a fan, when Roger is not playing, when Novak is not playing, when I am not playing, or when any footballer or basketball [player] are not playing, because they become part of the daily life of the people because they are an inspiration.”
Nadal faces Lorenzo Sonego on Saturday in round three.
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Watch daily highlights from Wimbledon at 10pm on Eurosport 2 and discovery+ from June 27, as well as the two singles finals live on July 9 and 10.
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