Rafael Nadal won’t turn his back on Wimbledon despite a third successive flop engineered by 19-year-old Nick Kyrgios in a frightening glimpse of what the future may hold for the 14-time Grand Slam winner.
The undisputed king of the French Open, where he has nine titles and owns a staggering match record of 66 wins to just one defeat, the 28-year-old Nadal is enduring diminishing returns at the All England Club.
Champion in 2008 and 2010 and runner-up for a third time in 2011, Nadal was beaten in the second round in 2012, the first round last year and fell in the last-16 to Australian rookie Kyrgios on Tuesday losing 6-7 (5/7), 7-5, 6-7 (5-7), 3-6 in a stunning Centre Court upset.
His record at the tournament now stands at 39 wins and eight losses while he has a similar 41-8 at both the US Open and Australian Opens.
But in Melbourne and New York, the Spaniard remains a contender – on his last two visits to Australia, he has been runner-up while his three most recent trips to the US Open have yielded two titles and a runners-up spot.
Nadal remains confident he can win another title at Wimbledon, a belief fuelled by having injury-free knees which have been tested to the limit in London where the ball bounces lower, increasing the stress factor on his suspect joints.
He also pointed to only dropping serve once against Kyrgios in a match which came down to a serve and return contest as the teenager blasted 37 aces and 70 winners past the shell-shocked Nadal.
“I tried my best, as always I do when my physical performance gives me the chance to try my best. The last two years I didn’t have that chance to try my best because my knee was not right to compete,” said Nadal.
“But this year I felt the knee was right to compete. I competed and I think I competed well. It was not enough, but that’s sport. The opponent was better than me. Life continues.”
Nadal believes that playing on grass is more of a lottery than other surfaces with matches decided by the finest of margins.
In his best years, he was the one who was dictating which was clearly not the case in the last three years with the significance of defeats to Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis and now Kyrgios amplified by all three players being outside the top 100.
“The problem is always the same. The year that I won in 2010, I was losing two sets to one in the second and third rounds against Phillip Petzschner and Robin Haase. I was able to win that kind of match. I had the chance to convert one of that opportunities.
“That’s something that didn’t happen against Kyrgios. Normally on grass the thing is the first week when you compete against some players, things are not very logical,” said Nadal.
“The surface creates the opportunity to players who can play very aggressive and they can see a real chance to win playing that style. On other surfaces you cannot play that crazy, way.”
Kyrgios, the world number 144, is the first player ranked outside the top 100 to defeat a world number one at a major since Andrei Olhovskiy stunned Jim Courier in the Wimbledon third round in 1992.
While the likes of three-time champion John McEnroe were quick to tip Kyrgios as a potential champion, Nadal’s uncle Toni, who has coached his nephew since his childhood days, remained to be convinced of what the future may hold.
“Rafael’s level of play was rather good this year at Wimbledon, with better feeling and movement than last year,” Toni told French sports daily L’Equipe.
“But it’s not that easy when you know that is going to be a lottery against Kyrgios.
“From a spectator point of view the match was very frustrating for me. I really struggle with this kind of tennis which is so quickfire that you don’t even have the time to think. I don’t like it when all you get are big serves and have to wait for a real rally.
“I like watching Federer, Dimitrov, Djokovic or Murray. I like to see tactics at work out on the court.”