LONDON To most tennis players, Wimbledon's inviting lush lawns represent green and pleasant land. For Rafa Nadal, however, dangers lurk around every nook and cranny of the famed grass arena.
A champion at the All England Club in 2008 and 2010, memories of those joyous days when he lifted the gilded Challenge Cup now seem like a lifetime ago.
A man considered to be almost unbeatable on clay and the owner of almost every record worth having on red dust - including a mind-boggling nine French Open trophies - has proved to be very, very beatable on grass.
So beatable in fact that his record on grass since 2012 stands at played 4, lost three. A second-round hammering at Wimbledon in 2012 was followed by a first-round mauling 12 months ago.
Having also lost his first match at the Wimbledon warm-up event in Halle this month, he arrived for what he called "the most dangerous tournament of the year" on the back of a three-match losing streak on turf.
So did he spend hours and hours on the practice court getting his grasscourt game into fine shape over the past 10 days?
"I went back home. I didn't practice tennis. I went a few days with the family, with friends. I was able to go for a party on Saturday with my friends," the Mallorcan, demoted to second seed despite his world number one ranking, told reporters ahead of his first round match against Slovakian Martin Klizan.
"I was able to go to the beach few days in Mallorca."
While diving into the cool blue Mediterranean Sea might not be the most conventional way to prepare for the world's most famous tennis spectacle, the Spaniard felt he needed the time away to heal his body after his claycourt exertions.
The swift two-week switch from clay to grass has never been easy for Nadal and his overworked knees but for the first time in three years, he feels in good shape coming into Wimbledon.
"I am feeling better this year than last couple (of) years. Personally, I feel that I am doing things better. I am able to move myself more freely now ... I'm not scared about my knee. That's the most important thing for me," the 28-year-old said as he prepared to launch his bid for a 15th major title.
"It's true that for the last couple of years I didn't play lot of matches on grass. But I am confident that I can do it again. Not talking about win, talking about play better than what I did last couple of years on grass."
His great rival Roger Federer believes that if Nadal can survive the first two rounds, he is more likely to resemble the champion who won the contest dubbed as the "greatest ever tennis match" - the 2008 final - rather than the impostor who turned up for the past two years.
"He might be slightly more vulnerable in the early rounds, like most of the guys. This new, fresh, lush grass, we're not quite used to it," said Federer.
"As you go deeper in the tournament, it becomes more clay courty, hard courty, with a bit of grass on it. It's easier to move; the ball bounces a bit higher; it becomes more what we're used to.
"If he gets the first two rounds, I would think we'll see more of what we've seen in the past."
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Tony Goodson)
In this week's Keeping Score podcast Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross talks about the skyrocketing valuation of his NFL franchise. Full Article