Rafael Nadal certainly loves to keep his doubters on their toes, and after dropping to the number 10 position in the tennis rankings, he didn’t let that stop him from knocking out Gael Monfils and pushing forward into the Mercedes Cup finals. He defeated Monfils 6-3, 6-4 in under ninety minutes and will go on to face Viktor Troicki on Sunday in Stuttgart.
“It’s a great feeling to be back in a final, especially on grass,” said Nadal. “It’s been since 2011, I didn’t play a final on grass. So it’s very good to be back and I think I’m playing well. It was a tough match but I played well against a very difficult opponent.
“He’s a charismatic player and does different things on court… I just tried to be ready and wait for my moment. I was solid with myself.
The draw for the London event on Saturday pitched Kyrgios in against the new French Open champion, Stanislas Wawrinka, in the first round on Tuesday, so there are challenges everywhere in a draw reduced to 32 players this year, including eight of the top 14 in the ATP rankings.
Nadal will rest on Monday before playing Alexandr Dolgopolov in his opening match on Tuesday.
It is seven years since Nadal won his first tournament on grass, here at Queen’s, before going on to beat Roger Federer in one of the great Wimbledon finals – and, although he has tumbled down the rankings this summer to a 10-year low of 10, the Spaniard seems to be repairing the damage to his tennis on the surface to which he is least suited.
Between 2006 and 2010 he was a contender on grass, reaching the final at Wimbledon against Federer in 06 and 07 before that epic victory the following year, then beating Tomas Berdych to win the title in 2010. But, by his own admission, he is not the player at 29 that he was then.
Still, while he suffered the humiliation of going out in the quarters on the clay of Roland Garros, where he has won nine of his 14 slam titles, he might surprise a few people at Wimbledon, where he has suffered early exits at the hands of 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol in 2012, Steve Darcis (135) in the first round in 2013 and last year against Kyrgios.
He beat Gaël Monfils 6-3, 6-4 in Stuttgart on Saturday to reach his first grass final in five years, where he will meet Viktor Troicki, who beat Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-7, 7-6 in the other semi-final.
“I think I’m playing well,” Nadal told Sky Sports. “It’s important for me, after losing at Roland Garros, to keep going and have the right attitude, the right level of tennis in the next couple of weeks and that is what I am trying.
“I’m practising every day with a very positive attitude, working a lot of hours on court. I’m enjoying again the tennis and every victory is important and being in the final is great news.”
Then there is Queen’s. The defending champion, Grigor Dimitrov, starts against the American Sam Querrey, and said later he would like Queen’s to be upgraded to a Masters tournament, although that is unlikely in the medium term.
“I always get a special feeling, a different connection when I step on the grass court,” the No6 seed said. “I’ve never had a problem switching surfaces. I wouldn’t mind if they made this a Masters 1000 event. I’ve been coming here four or five years, and it would add spice to the Tour.”
Andy Murray supported him, saying he did not agree with the stipulation that a centre court for a 1000 event should have seating capacity for 10,000.
“You have a tournament with unbelievable history here,” Murray said, “and they get fantastic crowds. If they could make a 10,000-seat stadium here, they would fill it as well.”
Murray plays a qualifier in his first match on Tuesday and could meet Dimitrov in the quarter-finals.