In recent years, however, his fortunes have quickly shifted with the change in surfaces.
At the outset of his career, major successes came more quickly for Nadal on grass than on the hard courts. Before he reached a final at the Australian Open or the United States Open, he had already made it to three consecutive finals at Wimbledon. He fell to Roger Federer in 2006 and 2007 before beating him in 2008. After being unable to defend his title in 2009 because of knee problems, Nadal returned to win his second title there in 2010 and reached another final in 2011.
But after that run of five finals in six years, Nadal’s acuity on grass was abruptly uprooted. In 2012, he suffered a shocking loss to No. 100 Lukas Rosol in the second round at Wimbledon. The contentious five-setter ended with Rosol firing aces seemingly at will, a performance that could have been dismissed as an example of a lesser player’s being locked in against a superior foe.
Rather than an outlier, however, that match was an omen. What followed for Nadal was an improbable spell of Wimbledon defeats to players with triple-digit rankings: a first-round loss to No. 135…