Rafael Nadal makes history at Wimbledon before tournament even begins

Rafa Nadal reacts to winning French Open at Roland-Garros

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Rafael Nadal is chasing a third Wimbledon crown and an unprecedented 23rd Grand Slam title when he competes at SW19 next week. However, the Spaniard made history as he took to Centre Court to practice with Matteo Berrettini – marking the first time players have trained on the surface on the Thursday before the tournament in Wimbledon’s 145-year history.

Nadal and Berrettini practiced on Centre Court for 45 minutes as organisers look to reduce the number of slips suffered by players in the opening rounds. The decision was made following players struggling to stay on their feet during the opening few days over the last few years, with several names forced to withdraw due to injury. 

Traditionally, the only people allowed to hit on Centre Court and No 1 Court prior to the tournament were four female All England Club members in a friendly doubles match on the Saturday to ensure preparations were complete. However, that rule has been changed to allow around four sessions of practice between professional players this week to help them prepare for the potentially slippery court surface and avoid injuries.

High-ranking seeds and former champions have been allowed to book one of two 45-minute sessions on each court. Nadal and Berrettini – the World No. 11 – went on first at 1.30pm before Novak Djokovic was scheduled with Marin Cilic, who reached the semi-finals at the French Open. 

The SW19 courts are primed for a fortnight of elite tennis action. The surface gets eventually worn down – but can be a difficult challenge in the opening rounds of the tournament.  

Players visibly struggle and renewed attention was placed on the issue last year as seven-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams fell victim to the Centre Court surface. The 40-year-old – who is one Grand Slam title short of Margaret Court’s record of 24 majors – was unfortunately forced to retire after she lost her footing twice during her first round match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

Last year, Williams became the second player in as many matches to retire injured after falling on court. France’s Adrian Mannarino slipped while leading Roger Federer and sadly could not continue after his fall. 

Both Williams and Mannarino had played under the roof on Centre Court which served to worsen the issue as the damp and humid conditions contributed to the slippery surface. Two-time Wimbledon champion and British icon Andy Murray took to Twitter to speak out against the slippery Centre Court turf.

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“Brutal for @serenawilliams but centre court is extremely slippy out there,” Murray wrote. “Not easy to move out there.”

However, Federer suggested that while it was unfortunate, it was a natural problem players faced during the first few days of any tournament. The eight-time Wimbledon champion said: “Those first two matches are always extremely difficult. But it’s always been like this.

“I feel for a lot of players, it’s super-key to get through those first two rounds because the grass is more slippery, it is more soft. As the tournament progresses, it usually gets harder and easier to move on.”

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