September 30, 2022

Mats Wilander says lower-ranked players see the grass as an opportunity to get a result against ‘the greatest of all time’ Rafael Nadal, but he also paid tribute to the Grand Slam winner’s longevity at 22 occasions.

Nadal secured his place in the Wimbledon third round after a 6-4 6-4 4-6 6-3 win over Ricardas Berankis – meaning the No. 2 seed remains on track for a record 23rd title in Grand Slam singles. The win was Nadal’s 307th victory 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 testifies to the consistency of even Rafa Nadal,” Wilander said.

“There were years when he couldn’t play at Wimbledon but he always comes back. The consistency of the Roger and Rafa and Novak tournaments and the Grand Slams is just amazing.

Nadal said the break in the fourth set benefited him, but Wilander praised Nadal’s ability to get the job done on his worst surface, the grass. Wilander, a seven-time Grand Slam winner, added that lower-ranked players saw grass as a great equalizer against Nadal.

“He is 36 years old; he has this band on his abdominal muscle; he has a foot problem,” Wilander began.

“I think it’s good… to take a break [for the rain delay, but] to be able to go out and play well and win matches on probably his worst surface in many ways, even though he has won more Wimbledons than Australian Opens.

“The grass pitches are a great way to equalize for a lot of lower ranked players. I think they believe they might have a slim chance of beating even the greatest of all time.

Nadal’s participation in Wimbledon and his career had – due to a chronic foot injury – been in doubt, but the ‘King of Clay’ says he doesn’t fear retirement.

“My philosophy is that a few weeks ago I was close to it. Now I don’t feel that anymore,” he said. “That’s my philosophy, right?

“It’s something I’m not… I was never afraid of that day. I think I’m happy to have a very happy life outside of tennis, even though tennis has been a very important part of my life for 30 years. I was happy outside of tennis, no doubt. I have a lot of things I like to do outside of tennis, so I don’t worry about that.

“But, of course, when that day comes, it’s going to be a change. All changes in this life take time. You have to adapt to changes, right?

“But it’s normal that people talk about the retirement of great athletes because in a way the athletes who have been [around] for so long at the top of the game, even more so in more popular sports, has been a part of so many people’s lives. The same thing happens to me with certain footballers, with golfers.

“I mean, for example, the person I like to see, Tiger Woods. Now I don’t see Tiger Woods playing as often. In a way, it’s also a change in my life. People will think probably the same as 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 [player] don’t play, because they are part of people’s daily lives because they are a source of inspiration.

Nadal will face Lorenzo Sonego on Saturday in the third round.

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Watch daily Wimbledon highlights at 10 p.m. 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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