Looking to reach the quarterfinals at Wimbledon for the first time since 2011, world #1 Rafael Nadal takes on the Czech Republic’s Jiri Vesely in fourth round action at the All England Club. Nadal, who arrived at Wimbledon fresh from winning his seventeenth Slam at the French Open, has looked in imperious form so far this year. But Vesely would not be the first big-hitting Czech to cause Nadal problems on Centre Court. Who will come out on top?
Nadal and Vesely have met just once previously, facing off three years ago in Hamburg on the clay. Nadal won that one in straight sets 6-4 7-6. In experience Nadal is the frontrunner. He has made 37 Grand Slam quarterfinals, including five at Wimbledon, though he has lost his last two fourth round matches in SW19. Vesely has never made a Slam quarterfinal, with his only previous trip to the fourth round ending in defeat at Wimbledon two years ago. He did, however, beat then world #1 Djokovic in Monte Carlo that year.
Path to the fourth round
Nadal began his 13th Wimbledon campaign against Israel’s Dudi Sela, who reached the fourth round at the All England Club in 2009, his best performance at a Slam. But he was outclassed by Nadal who won through 6-3 6-3 6-2. That set up a meeting with Mikhail Kukushkin. The Kazakh had some fine moments, but not the consistency required, and Nadal reached the third round a 6-4 6-3 6-4 winner. There he defeated Australian teenager Alex De Minaur 6-1 6-2 6-4 to return to the second week.
Vesely faced a tough opening assignment against the unorthodox German veteran Florian Mayer, something of a grass court specialist. But the Czech trusted in his power and was rewarded, winning 7-6 6-4 4-6 6-1. He then defeated the 14th seed and recent Roland Garros quarterfinalist Diego Schwartzman 6-3 6-4 7-6 to set up a clash with another clay court specialist, Fabio Fognini. Vesely overcame the flamboyant Italian 7-6 3-6 6-3 6-2.
How do they match up?
As well as Nadal defends, and there are arguably none better and few that can be accounted his equals, his success at Wimbledon has relied more upon his offensive abilities. His forehand, so long a devastating force on all surfaces, had rather lost its venom on grass courts, where he had struggled to replicate the fearsome whip and spin he generated on clay and hard courts. But with Wimbledon having baked under a hot sun, Nadal has rediscovered his great weapon.
Indeed, the unusually hot conditions have seen the courts at Wimbledon lose much of their slickness and produce higher bounces than usual. That will only continue into the second week and should suit Nadal. But, he will have to be on his guard against the power of Vesely. The big Czech has a monstrous serve and plenty of forehand power of his own and has torn down the two seeds he has faced thus far. If Nadal is too passive in this one, he may find himself undone.
This has the potential to be a dangerous match for Nadal, but it is a test he looks capable of passing. Vesely does not have the natural grass court skills of the likes of Darcis, Brown and Muller who have all upset Nadal at Wimbledon in recent years. He does have the power to hit through Nadal, but to do so he will need to redline his game for three sets and that is one of tennis’ greatest challenges. Vesely will give Nadal trouble, but the Spaniard will be the one left standing at the end. Nadal in four.