In his first match since winning an eleventh French Open, world #1 Rafael Nadal takes on Israel’s Dudi Sela for a place in the second round at Wimbledon. Nadal has twice won Wimbledon, lifting the title in 2008 and 2010, but has failed to go beyond the fourth round since losing in the 2011 final to Novak Djokovic. The veteran Sela has enjoyed the grass throughout his career and will be hopeful of springing the upset on the great Spaniard. Who will come out on top?
Nadal and Sela have met twice so far in their careers with both matches coming on hard courts. In the first Nadal delivered a good performance to defeat Sela in the third round of the Australian Open in straight sets 6-1 6-0 7-5, although the Spaniard would himself fall in the quarterfinals. He then beat the Israeli again last year in the second round in Miami, with Nadal winning through to the third round 6-3 6-4.
Last time out
If there were any doubts about who would claim the Roland Garros title this year, Nadal quickly set about putting them to rest. Though he was briefly in trouble, down a set and a break in the quarterfinals to Diego Schwartzman he was saved by a rain delay and the Argentine could not get close to him again. No one else was able to take a set off him, and Nadal wrapped the title up by defeating Dominic Thiem 6-4 6-3 6-2. He did, however, withdraw from Queen’s, and has not yet played on grass this year.
Sela’s last tournament was also the French Open, but the 33-year-old was rather less successful than Nadal. He was pitted against the 22-year-old Swede Elias Ymer who was playing at the French Open for just the second time and the first time since 2015. He managed to get the better of Sela fairly comfortably, winning through to the second round of a Grand Slam for the first time in his career in straight sets 7-6 6-3 6-1.
How do they match up?
Central to Nadal’s success throughout his career has been his forehand, which is unquestionably one of the best in the game. However, he is not entirely reliant on it to hurt his opponents, with his two-handed backhand an increasingly useful weapon for the Spaniard. His volleys are also excellent, which will serve him well on the grass. His serve is perhaps more functional than dangerous, but it is deceptively hard to attack off returns.
The diminutive Sela will look to unleash big winners as often as he can, and the Israeli has the power to do so off both his forehand and backhand side. However, what he does not possess is the controlled aggression of Nadal. So whilst he may go big, that may end up costing him too many unforced errors. The hot conditions will also count against him as the ball has been kicking up higher than usual, which may allow Nadal to breakdown Sela’s backhand with his forehand.
Nadal has not been spoken of much as amongst the title threats, an understandable state of affairs given his recent struggles at the All England Club. But, the Spaniard should have enough to get past Sela who he has beaten comfortably in their two previous encounters. Nadal has enough power to hit through Sela’s defence and moves well enough himself to handle the majority of what Sela will be able to throw at him. Nadal in straight sets.