Between 2006-2011, Rafael Nadal advanced to five Wimbledon finals from as many trips to London, winning two titles and losing finals to Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. The Spaniard was the player to beat at the All England Club in 2008 and 2010, prevailing over Federer in that memorable 2008 final and toppling Tomas Berdych two years later.
In 2011, Nadal was in another title match, seeking the third title against an in-form Novak Djokovic who ousted the Spaniard in four sets for his maiden trophy at Wimbledon. That was the last notable Wimbledon for Rafa in more than a decade, struggling to find the right form on grass in the years to come and earning only eight victories at the most prestigious tennis event between 2012-17.
Speaking about those dark years at the most prestigious Major, Rafa said his worst performances in London came in 2012 and 2013 when he shouldn't have played Wimbledon but wanted to give it a go. After five straight finals, Nadal suffered a shocking second-round loss in 2012 against world no.
100 Lukas Rosol who prevailed 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 in three hours and 18 minutes. Playing all-or-nothing shots from start to finish, the Czech took the rhythm away from Rafa, winning two points more and overpowering world no.
2 with a single break at the beginning of the decider. Nadal had the upper hand after the fourth set but they had to leave the court for a while and continue under the roof because of the darkness.
Rosol regained his tennis, dropped only three points on serve for a career-best triumph.
A year later, Nadal would finish as the year-end no.
1 but that honor didn't come as a reward for a deep Wimbledon run. Hitting rock-bottom, Rafa suffered the first-round exit to world no. 135 Steve Darcis who stunned him 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 in just under three hours. Struggling with his knees, Nadal knew his chances for good results were very small, still entering the event and experiencing one of his worst losses at Majors.
The Spaniard would have to wait for five years to finally turn the tide and make an impression at the All England Club, reaching the semi-final in 2018 and 2019, losing those encounters against Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
"In 2012 and 2013, I had my worst time at Wimbledon. In 2012, for example, I competed but I actually shouldn't. In fact, that was my last tournament until Vina del Mar next February. 2013 was a fantastic year, I won a lot of titles but didn't play well at Wimbledon.
For success on grass, you need to bend down, a stable knee, something I didn't have. I knew it was practically impossible, I already saw it in training, but I tried it anyway," Rafael Nadal said.