LONDON, June 22 (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal will begin a hazardous path towards a third Wimbledon title on Monday just happy to have arrived at the grasscourt slam with a full complement of knees.
Almost a year after suffering one of the worst defeats of his career to Czech hitman Lukas Rosol, Nadal ventured back into the All England Club this week after claiming another French Open triumph, just as he did 12 months ago.
The difference this time is that his body appears to have paid a far smaller price to claim an eighth Roland Garros title than it did to chalk up number seven in 2012.
Asked to look back to his five-set defeat by Rosol last year, Nadal admitted it was a mistake even to turn up in leafy south-west London last year.
“I was not ready to play here. That’s the real thing. I play with an infiltration (painkilling injection) from the first day,” Nadal, seeded five this year, told reporters after practising on Saturday.
”Last year I played here because it’s a tournament that I love. I tried my best. But after Roland Garros my knee was not there any more. After here I was not able to compete in one more tournament during the rest of the season.
”That’s tennis and that’s the sport. You lose, you win. That’s part of the game. But that experience for me last year was too much. I suffered too much.
“If you are in the final rounds and if you have to protect or play with an infiltration, it’s fine. But playing with an infiltration from the first day doesn’t exist. Wimbledon was not a good decision for me.”
Since returning from that left knee injury in February, the 27-year-old Nadal has claimed seven titles from the nine tournaments he has contested.
The heavy schedule was why the 12-times grand-slam champion made the decision to skip a grasscourt tune-up in Halle and enjoy a few more days in the Mallorcan sunshine.
”You cannot forget the tennis when you have Wimbledon in two weeks. It’s impossible. But I stopped for a few days,“ Nadal said. ”This time of year in Mallorca it’s great as we have a little time to enjoy the sea.
“Not playing a tournament before here always makes it a little bit tougher because you really play with the real feelings only when you are playing matches.”
It is all systems go now though as Nadal tries to get up to speed on grass. Being seeded in line with his world ranking of five means he could have to beat defending champion Roger Federer, world number two Andy Murray and top seed Novak Djokovic in successive matches.
After what happened last year though, Nadal is not even looking that far ahead and has no complaints about the draw.
“I didn’t play a lot on grass the last couple of years, so I really take care about myself about the first round. I don’t think about the other things,” said Nadal, who plays Belgium’s Steve Darcis on Monday.
“My view is if I arrive to the quarter-finals is because I will be ready. But for me, it’s going to be very tough to be there.” (Editing by Clare Fallon)