With French Open title in hand, can Rafael Nadal win Wimbledon?

PARIS -- Toni Nadal, the uncle and longtime coach of Rafael Nadal, was waiting to meet with his nephew after the final at the 2019 French Open on Sunday, ready to congratulate his nephew on his 12th Roland Garros title. It was an achievement Toni described as "incredible" -- especially since Toni Nadal once believed, as most people did, that Bjorn Borg's record of six French Open titles was unbeatable.

Nadal now has twice as many Roland Garros titles as Borg, a record that surely will never be beaten, especially as the Spaniard may well win the title again a couple more times before he's done. But as he discussed his nephew's achievements Sunday after the match, Toni revealed what he would say to Rafa once they met.

"I think when I talk with him today I say I think you have the possibility to win Wimbledon again," Toni said. "Last year was very close [Nadal lost in five sets to eventual champ Novak Djokovic in the semifinals]. I think he has the possibility to win, and I want to hope that this year it will be possible.

"I know that [Roger] Federer is there, Djokovic is there, Dominic [Thiem], many good players, but I want to think that Rafael has the possibility because it's impossible to work well without confidence. I want to think that for Rafael, and he has to think that too."

No man has done the Roland Garros-Wimbledon double since Nadal himself in 2010, when he picked up his second Wimbledon title, two years after his first. He was the runner-up in 2011, but for a few years after that, it seemed that Nadal's creaking knees were not up to the challenge of the relatively low-bouncing grass. He won just two matches combined at Wimbledon in 2012, '13 and '15 -- sandwiched around a fourth-round appearance in 2014 -- and then missed the tournament altogether in 2016.

But in the past two years, he seems to have found a way to play well on grass again. In 2017, he reached the fourth round and lost 15-13 in the final set to Gilles Muller of Luxembourg, a defeat that hurt more than most because Nadal thought he was on course to get to another final. Last year, he played his best tennis on grass since 2011 and was so close to beating Djokovic in an epic semifinal, spread over two days and ending 10-8 in the fifth set. Had the roof not remained closed when they resumed on the second day -- a contentious decision -- he very well may have won.

"I know I played a great event last year," Nadal said in Paris on Sunday. "I have been able to be very close to win another title there. As everybody knows, I love to play on grass. And as everybody knows, I am not able to play so many weeks in a row like I did 10 years ago, eight years ago. So I have to do my schedule [smartly].

"Honestly, the last two years that I played in Wimbledon, I felt close again. Even if the first year have been that match against Muller, I played great tennis there too. I was very close to being in the quarterfinals, and last year I was one point away [from serving for a place in] that final."

Nadal said he will not play a grass-court warm-up event, preferring to rest, stay healthy and then start preparing for Wimbledon -- although he may play one or two exhibition matches just to get the feel of the match-court.

Where once Wimbledon was the domain of the big servers and the big hitters, the grass these days is a little slower, allowing players more chance on returns. Serve and volley still plays a role, though, while players who are able to come forward will always have their reward. And as Nadal showed in Paris on Sunday, when he won 23 of 27 points at the net against Thiem, he volleys as well as anyone.

The key for Nadal, however, is not the grass. It's confidence. And having been at a low when he arrived in Barcelona in April, when he admitted his attitude was uncharacteristically negative, he changed things around. Victory in Rome last month restored his belief, and his win at Roland Garros will surely have been as satisfying as any of the other 11 titles there.

Carlos Moya, who has taken over the full-time coaching reins from Toni Nadal, also thinks Rafa can win Wimbledon again.

"Of course, why not?" he said. "He lost in the semifinal last year, playing a great match. Why not? He's too good to not be a contender in any tournament he plays. I think [he is mentally ready]. Winning in Rome gave him the confidence to believe that he was playing well enough to win again. And physically?

"We'll see, but, yes, I think so."

Nadal's 18th Grand Slam title means he is now just two behind Federer at the top of the all-time list -- more motivation, if he needs it, to keep going and keep fighting. As usual, Nadal seems too grounded to get carried away.

"I am not very worried about this stuff," Nadal said. "You can't be frustrated all the time because the neighbor has a bigger house than you, or a bigger TV or better garden. That's not the way that I see the life, you know.

"I just try to do my way. I feel very lucky about all the things that are happening to me. And if, at the end of my career, I am able to win a couple more Grand Slams and be closer to Roger, will be unbelievable. If not, for me, still unbelievable, no?"

Even at age 37, Federer is playing well and will fancy his chances again at Wimbledon, while Djokovic will be extra motivated after missing out on a second "Nole Slam" of four consecutive majors by losing to Thiem in the French Open semifinals.

But Nadal, with his confidence up and his knees healthy, will be there too.