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Nadal right where he wants to be: “The improvement in the tournament is there”

As he has done so often throughout his career, the Spaniard is finding his game right when he needs it most

Rafael Nadal Spain’s Rafael Nadal celebrates winning his fourth round match against Netherlands’ Botic van de Zandschulp (AI/Reiters/Panoramic)

It has been fascinating to watch the evolution of Rafael Nadal’s career, from his arrival on the scene as a teenager with pirate shorts and a massive forehand perfect for clay, to a supreme athlete with a fully-rounded game and a mentality that has brought him 22 Grand Slam titles.

Nadal is a fast learner. It’s worth remembering that when he first won the French Open in 2005, people thought his game would never transition to grass. A year later he reached the Wimbledon final. He repeated the feat in 2007 and in 2008 he won the first of his, to date, two Wimbledon titles (the second came in 2010).

What Nadal also does incredibly well is build during a tournament. There’s little point playing your best in the first round if you’re going to fizzle out. Much better to improve with every match, something Nadal seems to be doing, with his 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 win over Botic van de Zandschulp sending him into the quarter-finals for the eighth time and the third in a row, going back to his last two appearances, in 2018 and 2019, when he made the semis.

“The positive thing is the first two matches haven’t been good, then two days ago I played I think at high level for the first time,” he said after his win over Van de Zandschulp. “And today most of the match, again, at a very positive level, no? Happy for that.

Spain’s Rafael Nadal celebrates winning his fourth round match against Netherlands’ Botic van de Zandschulp (AI/Reuters/Panoramic)

“That gives me the chance to have one more day tomorrow on the court practicing and adjusting things that I need to keep doing. The improvement during the tournament is there.”

Nadal – When you lose physical performance, you need to add something else

Nadal is where he needs to be and where he wants to be. At 36, he moves more efficiently than ever, not wasting any energy on anything other than the point. As his game has evolved, even with the injuries he’s dealt with, so he has learned to get the absolute most out of his game, even on grass, where after a number of difficult years at Wimbledon, he has made it to the business end again three years in a row.

“Well, I won here in 2008. I played the final in 2006 and 07,” he said. “Have to say during that period of time a lot of things I did well. We can talk about improvements. But in the other hand, at the very early stages of my career, I was able to play well in this surface, too.

“Of course I am running less than before, that’s obvious, so I need to improve. When I am losing things in terms of physical performance, you need to add things to keep being competitive. That’s what I did all my career, just try to add things to my game, to improve things that I need to still be competitive after losing some physical capacities and other things that you lose during the career.

“But at the same time one of the things that I’m more proud is the way I have been able to adjust and to accept the challenges in terms of physical issues, be able always to find a way to be competitive and improve my game.”

Nadal: I’ve made a big effort to be here

Nadal has always been a good volleyer; it’s probably the most underrated part of his game. His net play has been long been a major factor in his success and at this year’s event, he seems to have been venturing forward more than ever.

In his four matches to date, Nadal has been to the net 96 times and won the point on 64 occasions, a more than healthy return.

“Well, I won here in 2008. I played the final in 2006 and ‘7. Have to say during that period of time a lot of things I did well in that period of time. We can talk about improvements. But in the other hand, at the very early stages of my career, I was able to play well in this surface, too.”

Having won the first two Grand Slam titles of the year, and having needed radiofrequency ablation treatment to his chronic left foot, Nadal didn’t know if he would even be at Wimbledon but here he is, into the last eight, with American Taylor Fritz the only thing standing between him and the semis again. The bid for the calendar-year Grand Slam is alive and well.

“I did I think a big effort to be here,” he said. “Takes a lot of mental and physical effort to try to play this tournament after the things that I went through the last couple of months.

“I think I have been improving in general terms. I started to feel that my ball is damaging more than the beginning of the tournament. I think I am, again, making the ball advance faster with my forehand, with my backhand. I think working well with the slice, too. Then I miss a couple of volleys again going to the net. That’s the way.

“In general terms, I am happy, no? Not easy to make the transition. Not easy especially after a while not playing here. Happy for that. Now is the moment to keep doing the steps forward if I want to keep having chances.”

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