Sunday, June 26, 2022

Nadal’s injury punt, Raducanu uncertainty and why Andy Murray is so dangerous at Wimbledon

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Injuries will dominate entertainment rather than form in the week leading up to Wimbledon

The courts in SW19 remain – for the time being – in immaculate green. So, so far ahead of the third Grand Slam of the year, what have we learned about the runners and riders vying for Wimbledon glory?

QUEEN’S CLUB – Wimbledon is less than a week away. The grass pitches of Halle, Stuttgart, Rosmalen, Nottingham, Ilkley and more have all been worn down from green to a burnt yellow as players desperately try to adjust to the most esoteric surfaces.

Grand Slam is worth the risk for Nadal

Rafael Nadal is obviously still in pain. His press conference in Mallorca was positive overall as he said he will “try to play Wimbledon” but it was not an unqualified endorsement of his level of fitness.

“I’m glad. I haven’t hobbled in a week and the development of the training is progressing,” Nadal said on Friday, more than a week after undergoing two sessions of nerve therapy to relieve the pain in his foot.

“Every day the pain was different and that’s a step forward. I have to wait a little. My intention is to play Wimbledon and this week told me there was a chance.

“A chance” is not a certainty. “Try” is not “become”. Nadal takes a punt.

Why? Because he has a chance to do something he’s never done before, actually something no human has done in singles since Rod Laver in 1969: the calendar year Grand Slam. It’s an achievement so appreciated that the pressure to achieve it even overwhelmed the great Novak Djokovic when he fell at the final hurdle in last year’s US Open final.

For Nadal, who has won the Australian Open and French Open, this is a shot at a piece of history that his two great rivals Djokovic and Roger Federer will most likely never have. It’s worth the risk.

Tsitsipas is the vulnerable seed

While Nadal’s stock has gone up despite not playing, Stefanos Tsitsipas’ has gone down after playing quite a bit. He makes a habit of losing games most expect him to win.

His last three defeats came against Nick Kyrgios, Andy Murray and Holger Rune. None of them are particularly embarrassing, but as world No. 6, the list of people in the world who expect to beat you should be vanishingly short.

On grass, however, Tsitsipas appears to be easy prey and his poor form almost cost him a better spot in the Wimbledon seedings as well; he was dangerously close to falling behind Carlos Alcaraz and missing out on the No. 4 seed, which ensures he doesn’t have to meet higher-ranked players ahead of the semi-finals.

Even with the protection of the tie, everyone in the top 100 will be evaluating their chances against the Greek, whose Tour record on grass is 10 wins 10 losses. He will play in Mallorca this week to improve but there is a lot of room for that.

Raducanu’s injury status is a cause for concern

Everyone has an opinion on Emma Raducanu, from Andy Murray to Piers Morgan. Some are valid, some are not.

The facts are as follows: Raducanu suffered what she called a ‘freak’ injury at Nottingham and lasted just 33 minutes before being forced to give up her first and only turf game so far in 2022. She expected to recover from that side load in time for Eastbourne, which started on Sunday but then withdrew as a precaution.

She could still try to get some match practice at the Giorgi Armani Classic, an exhibition event at Hurlingham Club the week before Wimbledon which will also host Nadal and Djokovic, among others, but that would be a desperate move.

So the new star of British tennis is likely to arrive back where she first stormed the stage 12 months ago, undercooked by anyone’s standards. No one really knows how fit she is or will be, and no one will know until she takes to the pitch.

At the very least, her top-10 seed will protect her from anything too terrible in Friday’s draw, although wildcard Serena Williams would be a pretty dangerous banana peel to say the least.

Underestimate Murray at your peril

Andy Murray is said to have been frustrated but not disappointed by the injury that ruled him out of Queen’s. Of course he would have liked to play a tournament he had won five times, but privately he was relieved that the stomach ache didn’t seem serious enough to jeopardize his participation in Wimbledon.

The former world No. 1 scored at Aorangi, Wimbledon’s private practice facility, on Saturday to indicate he is recovering and could still secure an exhibition spot this week in a bid to secure some half-time on the pitch.

He had hoped to earn enough points to earn a spot in the draw seed, giving him an easier transition into week two, but would instead present a difficult draw for any of the top 32 players.

Murray reached the third round here last year in far worse shape and with less training than in the past two months. Wimbledon has been his only focus since bringing Ivan Lendl back. There is no player in the draw who wants to end up in his section.

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