Rafael Nadal is a 17-time Grand Slam champion and twice a winner at Wimbledon. Between 2006 and 2011, the Spaniard reached five consecutive finals at the All England Club (he was absent in 2009 due to injury). Since his last final appearance, Nadal has failed to feature in the last eight at Wimbledon. There is a valid reason for each loss and maybe 2018 will be different.
2012 – R2 defeat to Lukas Rosol
At the time, this loss seemed monumental as it was such a massive shock. The Spaniard had been a finalist at the last five Slams and it was the first time in 11 Grand Slam events where Nadal failed to reach the last eight. Lukas Rosol was ranked #100 at the time and defied the odds by serving Nadal off the court–a common theme in his shock Wimbledon departures.
However, what happened in the aftermath may explain this upset. After this result Nadal was absent from the tour for a staggering seven months and missed the Olympics, US Open, and Australian Open. Maybe Nadal was not physically ready to take on Rosol on Centre Court?
2013 – R1 defeat to Steve Darcis
The main feeling after this match was shock because Darcis is not known as a great grass court player and he was ranked #135 in the world. The Spaniard had also been in terrific form going into the tournament with titles in Indian Wells, Madrid, Rome and his eighth title at the French Open. Unlike his other early Wimbledon exits, he was not served off the court in this one, which might make it even more shocking.
On the other hand, we must look at the bigger picture. The Spaniard was probably nowhere near full fitness going into SW19 in 2013. Wimbledon was Nadal’s tenth tournament in four months and that was after being sidelined for the seven months prior. Maybe it was too much too soon.
2014 – R4 defeat to Nick Kyrgios
Ranked #144 at the time, a nineteen-year-old Nick Kyrgios stepped onto Centre Court and showed no fear in an unbelievable serving display as he defeated the world #1, Rafael Nadal. From the first point you knew this would be a tough day in the office for Nadal, especially on a grass court. The Spaniard was once again going into Wimbledon as the French Open champion and was looking to complete the “channel Slam” for the first time since 2010.
Out of all of his early Wimbledon losses this is the one where we can forgive Nadal most for, in my opinion. Even though he was ranked #144, he is still Nick Kyrgios and a tough encounter for anyone. The Australian is used to playing above his ranking and that has remained throughout his entire career.
2015 – R2 defeat to Dustin Brown
Dustin Brown came through qualifying and a round of the main draw to set up a mouthwatering battle with Rafael Nadal on Centre Court. Brown played well above his ranking of #102 and stunned the #10 seed in an unorthodox, entertaining performance.
In my opinion, the was the least shocking early Wimbledon exit that Nadal has suffered. Before the match had started I knew he was probably going to lose. Firstly, the Spaniard had been in relatively awful form that year and had yet to win a title – even on the clay. The pair also met on grass in 2014 where Brown routinely defeated Nadal. Although it was a much closer encounter in 2015, the German still came out on top.
2017 – R4 defeat to Gilles Muller
Rafael Nadal did not feature in 2016 due to a wrist injury he sustained. The 2017 defeat to Gilles Muller was the least shocking results rankings-wise: Muller was ranked #16 in the world and had been in stunning form on the grass that season. Nadal levelled up the match after being two sets down but Muller remained clutch and defeated the Spaniard 15-13 in the fifth in what will go down as one of the most memorable matches in Wimbledon history.
This was the biggest missed opportunity for Nadal at Wimbledon in recent years. Although it was heartbreaking for his fans, there was not much the Spaniard could have done because Muller was so ice cool in the biggest moments. If he performs this year as he did in 2017 then we may see Nadal return to the Wimbledon quarterfinals.
2018 – Could this be the year?
The draw has blessed Rafael Nadal and no seeded big servers will be in his path. Clay court specialist seeds surround the 17-time Grand Slam champion in the draw, and these are the men who could stop him from making the last eight: Diego Schwartzman, Fabio Fognini and Marco Cecchinato. The World #1 will start his 2018 campaign today against Dudi Sela, and Nadal has not dropped a set to him in their only two previous meetings.
It is weird to think that it has been seven years since we last saw the Spaniard in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon. Some shock defeats have blended with superb grass court performances to halt his progress at SW19. 2018 surely has to be the year that Rafael Nadal finally reaches the last eight at the All England Club.