It is not often that Rafael Nadal experiences something new in tennis, but that is what he is doing this year at Wimbledon.
For the first time in his career, Nadal heads to SW19 with that chance of pursuing a Calendar Grand Slam having already won the first two majors of the season.
How kind, though, has the Wimbledon draw been to him?
Nothing to worry about in the first week
Grand Slams tend to be largely processional for the players of Rafael Nadal’s calibre and he has avoided early clashes with the dangerous floaters in the draw such as Andy Murray and Nick Kyrgios.
Nadal will open his Wimbledon campaign against Argentinian Francisco Cerundolo, and there won’t be anyone expecting him to have any real trouble in easing himself through it.
Either Sam Querrey or Ricardas Berrankis will be next for Nadal. His potential third-round opponents are Denis Kudla, Lorenzo Sonego, Alexei Popyrin and Hugo Gaston.
Make no mistake: that is a talented bunch of players who could cause problems for anyone, including Nadal, but none look capable of beating him over five sets.
The fourth-round could get very interesting if Marin Cilic is still in the tournament. Cilic is a former Wimbledon finalist and he, in theory, has a huge grasscourt game. He showed he still has the pedigree to go deep at majors with a run to the semi-finals of Roland Garros, so if Nadal plays him in the fourth-round of Wimbledon he will be genuinely be at risk of losing.
Felix Auger-Aliassime rematch in quarters?
Rafael Nadal had some brilliant matches at the French Open recently, but no one caused him the problems that Felix Auger-Aliassime did. The Canadian was able to take Nadal all the way to five sets at the French Open, and very few have managed to do that.
Auger-Aliassime is the projected quarter-final opponent for Nadal in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, and if he caused the Spaniard that many problems on clay, he could be an absolute nightmare for him on grass.
He should come through his own section of the draw relatively easily. Taylor Fritz looks like the toughest name in there, although he does have a tough opener himself against Maxime Cressey.
Should he come though it, though, and faces Rafa in the last eight, it could be a genuine popcorn match and very tough to call.
Semi-final spectre of Berrettini looms large
Although Nadal has a couple of tricky-looking projected match-ups, Matteo Berrettini is probably the one player in his half of the draw that you could see overpowering him.
Berrettini has been an absolute monster on grass over the last two seasons, with his big serve and huge forehand just swatting away almost everyone who has encountered them. He won both Stuttgart and Queen’s and reached the Wimbledon final last year, so he is lacking in neither form nor pedigree.
In many ways, this Wimbledon draw as all about who’s half of the draw Berrettini landed, and Rafa has drawn the short straw.
Stefanos Tsitsipas is also in Berrettini’s quarter. He has really struggled to adapt his game to grass, so it would be a surprise if he suddenly got it together for Wimbledon. Nick Kyrgios is in there too, so keep an eye on him. He will certainly fancy himself to beat anyone and he has the talent to do it.
You can’t win Wimbledon without beating Djokovic, right?
If Rafael Nadal gets to the Wimbledon, it looks almost certain that he will face Novak Djokovic there.
Djokovic probably has the tougher draw here, but Wimbledon is very much his domain nowadays. The fact he has not been defeated on Centre Court now for nine years tells you that, if you want to win Wimbledon, you’re going to have to beat Novak Djokovic at some point to do it.
Carlos Alcaraz and Hurbert Hurkacz look the players from his side of the draw to beat him. You can throw Andy Murray in there too if you want. None will be expected, or expecting, to do it though.
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