Rafael Nadal’s relationship with the Queen’s Club tournament has been, well, full of twists and turns.
And now, for 2018, he’s back.
Nadal played the grass-court event, which formerly took place two weeks before Wimbledon and now is three weeks before, five times in the six years between 2006 and 2011. Coincidence or not, he reached the Wimbledon final each time he played it.
After losing to Robin Soderling early at the French Open in 2009, he pulled out of the entire grass-court season because of his knee issues and so, missed that edition.
At Queen’s Club, he made the quarterfinals four times. But in 2008, he won it beating Andy Roddick in the semifinals and Novak Djokovic in the final. A few weeks later, he won his first Wimbledon title in that epic day-night encounter against Roger Federer.
Two years later, after losing to Feliciano Lopez in the quarters at Queen’s Club, he won Wimbledon again.
Every year, there was an iconic photo on the London club’s lawns on the Tuesday after the French Open final. After taking one day off, Nadal would immediately hit the grass at Queen’s Club to work on the grass transition, no matter how tired he might have been from the fortnight in Paris.
But then … the money gremlins kicked in.
Too much taxation sends Nadal to Germany
By 2011, Nadal had eschewed his traditional (and very successful) preparation as he railed against the system that taxed athletes in Great Britain. It was a system that also went after their endorsement income. And after all those years, Nadal had enough.
He decamped for the competing tournament in Halle, Germany that already had a longstanding deal with his rival Roger Federer – not incidentally, for the not-insignificant appearance fee of about $1 million and a two-year commitment. Although he said the cash played no part in his decision.
His Wimbledon record since then doesn’t have the same luster. And his fate in Halle seemed rather star-crossed.
Nadal lost to Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany in his second match at Halle in 2012, playing despite knee issues.
In 2013, he didn’t play it, pointing to the physical grind of the clay-court season. He lost in the first round of Wimbledon to Steve Darcis.
In 2014, making good on the missing year, he lost to another German, Dustin Brown, in his first match of the tournament.
In 2015, the taxation situation having been relaxed somewhat, he returned to Queen’s to try to recapture that Queen’s-Wimbledon karma. But he lost in the first round to Alexandr Dolgopolov, and in the second round of Wimbledon to Brown.
In 2016, he skipped the grass-court season entirely after injuring his left wrist in Paris. He returned despite not being 100 per cent physically only for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Last summer, he didn’t play any tuneup events. The long, successful clay-court season culminated in Nadal’s 10th French Open title, and he needed some down time. He lost narrowly, 15-13 in the fifth set, to Gilles Muller in the round of 16 at Wimbledon.
Getting that Queen’s Club karma back
Is Nadal a superstitious sort? You could make that argument, given his rituals.
In his early career, the Queen’s Club – Wimbledon double clearly was extremely successful for him.
To tally it up: Nadal made the Wimbledon final the first five times he played Queen’s Club. Since the taxation issue chased him off, his sum total at Wimbledon has been two fourth rounds, two second rounds and a first round.
With this return, perhaps he’s trying to put all the karma on his side.
(And yes, no doubt there was a pretty big cheque attached as well).