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Tsitsipas: Nadal must feel immortal after French win

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London—Stefanos Tsitsipas believes Rafael Nadal must feel “immortal” after winning the French Open and moving halfway to the first men’s calendar Grand Slam in more than half a century.

Spain’s Rafael Nadal eyes the ball as he returns it during a training session during the 2022 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London. AFP

The great Spaniard captured a 14th title at Roland Garros earlier this month to add to the Australian Open he secured in January.

His win in Paris, which also extended his Grand Slam record to 22 titles, came despite him needing his injured left foot to be anaesthetised.

“I have a lot of respect for what he did at the French Open, playing with that foot. It was a broken foot in a way. It kind of makes him feel like he’s immortal with the things he’s able to pull off,” said Tsitsipas.

“The matches, the level of intensity he’s able to reach in times where it’s very uncomfortable, it would be uncomfortable for most players to compete under these conditions physically.”

Nadal goes into Wimbledon, which starts on Monday, claiming he is pain-free for the first time in a year and a half after undergoing treatment to cure nerve pain in his troublesome foot.

Tsitsipas believes that Nadal, the champion at the All England in 2008 and 2010, has a psychological edge if rivals believe the Spanish star is often just one injury away from retirement.

“We’re used to seeing Rafa not being able to play and win multiple Grand Slams or tournaments,” added the 23-year-old.

“That’s where I think the opponents need to be more careful. When he says he can’t play and has foot problems, that’s where I feel he’s the most threatening in terms of his performance.

“It’s actually reverse psychology in a way.”

World number six Tsitsipas arrives at Wimbledon with a first grass-court title under his belt having triumphed in Mallorca on Saturday.

Now he needs to translate that form to the All England Club where he has fallen at the first round three times in four visits.

That included 2021 when he was knocked out in straight sets by Frances Tiafoe.

“Last year was difficult for me. I didn’t play a single match before Wimbledon on grass. I was trying to play on grass like I did on clay, which was a huge mistake,” he admitted on Sunday.

“Technique-wise, tactic-wise, it all fell apart. Looking back last year, I watched a few videos, highlights. You want to analyse as much as possible, get to see your weak points. None of it made sense.”

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic begins his bid to match Pete Sampras as a seven-time Wimbledon champion on Monday with British Grand Slam title winners Andy Murray and Emma Raducanu also on the Centre Court agenda.

In the absence of the banned Daniil Medvedev and injured Alexander Zverev, 20-time major winner Djokovic takes top seeding.

The 35-year-old defending champion starts his title bid against South Korea’s Kwon Soon-woo, the world number 75.

Djokovic has extra motivation this year as Wimbledon will be his last Slam of 2022.

His continued refusal to get vaccinated means he will remain banned from entering the United States for the US Open later this summer.

Also adding fuel to the Djokovic fire is the chance to win a fourth successive Wimbledon title and join a select group.

In the Open era, only Bjorn Borg, Sampras and Roger Federer have managed to complete such a streak of dominance at the All England Club.

“As a seven, eight-year-old boy I’ve dreamt of winning Wimbledon and becoming number one,” said Djokovic.

“Pete Sampras winning his first Wimbledon was the first tennis match I ever saw on the TV.”

Murray, the Wimbledon champion in 2013 and 2016, is unseeded this year but remains a dangerous floater in the draw.

He made the Stuttgart grass-court final earlier this month before an abdominal injury forced him out of Queen’s.

“I think he’s one of the most dangerous players on grass still,” said Australia’s Nick Kyrgios.

“I definitely think the way he can handle speed, return, compete, slice, volley, as long as his body is feeling well, I don’t want to see him on the grass at all.”

Murray takes on Australia’s 77th-ranked James Duckworth who has yet to register a win on the main tour in 2022.

However, the 30-year-old did make the third round at Wimbledon in 2021.

Duckworth’s career had been undermined by requiring nine surgeries in the last decade.

Raducanu, the shock 2021 US Open champion, plays Wimbledon for the first time as a Grand Slam winner.

She made the fourth round last year but has been plagued by inconsistent form since her triumph in New York.

The 19-year-old has been battling a side strain but insisted she is “ready to go” on opening day against 46th-ranked Alison van Uytvanck.

The Belgian player made the last 16 four years ago.

Also in action on the first day of the 2022 tournament is French Open runner-up and third seed Casper Ruud.

The Norwegian starts against Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

Ruud has lost in the first round on his two appearances at the tournament.

He was also defeated in his only grass-court outing this summer by world number 180 Ryan Peniston at Queen’s.

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