By HOWARD FENDRICH
2014-06-09 11:01 PM
PARIS (AP) -- His ninth French Open title behind him, Rafael Nadal already is thinking ahead to what's next: Wimbledon.
That's why he planned to waste no time and go directly from France to Germany on Monday to get ready to play in a grass-court tuneup tournament.
Nadal's collection of 14 Grand Slam titles, only three shy of Roger Federer's record for men, includes two championships at the All England Club. But the most recent came in 2010, and Nadal's past two trips to Wimbledon were quite brief: He lost in the second round in 2012, and the first round in 2013.
"I want to try to play well again in Wimbledon," the No. 1-ranked Nadal declared Sunday night after beating No. 2 Novak Djokovic 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 in the French Open final to improve to 66-1 at the clay-court tournament. "I'm healthy. That's the most important thing, I feel."
The big question about Nadal always was longevity, and whether his 6-foot-1 (1.85-meter), 188-pound (85-kilogram) body would hold up to the constant pounding from his relentless style.
Well, now he is the only man with at least one Grand Slam title in 10 consecutive years. And having turned 28 last week, the Spaniard is roughly two months older than Federer was when he got his 14th major.
But Nadal was slowed by a bad back during a loss in January's Australian Open final. Of more concern: his knees. He decided not to defend his Wimbledon title in 2009, then was sidelined for the last half of 2012 because of a problem with his left knee.
"I hope my knee will have the positive feeling on grass, because I feel my knee (is) better than last year in the rest of the surfaces," Nadal said. "Grass always was a little bit harder for me after the injury."
This part of the tennis schedule is unforgiving, allowing two weeks to adjust from clay to grass between the French Open and Wimbledon. That changes next year, when a third week gets added.
For now, there is time to contemplate story lines that will matter when Wimbledon starts June 23.
Djokovic, for example, will try to set aside his latest disappointment in Paris, coming up short again in his bid to complete a career Grand Slam. Djokovic has won six major titles -- four at the Australian Open, plus one each at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open -- but he has lost in the finals at three of the last four Slams.
That includes a defeat at the All England Club a year ago, when Andy Murray became the first British man to win the title since Fred Perry in 1936. So Murray would be the center of attention, anyway, and he gave everyone another reason to keep a close eye on him by hiring former women's No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo as his new coach.
The fourth member of the Big Four, Federer, has lost before the quarterfinals at three of the last four Slams, a stretch that began with a second-round exit at Wimbledon.
It will also be worth watching how players who had breakthroughs at the French Open follow that up. Ernests Gulbis, for one. Simona Halep, Andrea Petkovic and Garbine Muguruza, too.
And then there are a couple of previous Wimbledon winners who followed very different paths in Paris.
Serena Williams was the defending champion at the French Open, and departed in the second round, beaten 6-2, 6-2 by Muguruza. Williams vowed to "go home and work five times as hard to make sure I never lose again." After her last early exit at Roland Garros -- in 2012's first round -- she went on to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Sharapova, meanwhile, earned a second French Open title and fifth major overall, overcoming a dozen double-faults in her three-set victory over Halep in the final. Now it's on to Wimbledon, where Sharapova won her first Grand Slam championship at age 17 in 2004.
"Even though you always remember those incredible moments of holding that trophy," Sharapova said, "you got to try to erase that from your mind because you got to create new ones."
Howard Fendrich covers tennis for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him via Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich