Nadal, and his foot, under scrutiny as he chases third Wimbledon title

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LONDON : When Wimbledon rolls out the lush green carpet to welcome Rafael Nadal at the championships for the first time in three years next week, it will be the Spaniard's foot, rather than his formidable forehand, that will be scrutinised to the nth degree.

Until a few days ago, very few people had even heard of 'radiofrequency ablation treatment' - a procedure which uses heat on the nerve to quell long-term pain.

But it is thanks to that procedure, which the 36-year-old had earlier this month to treat a degenerative condition that affects the bones in his feet, that he is able to turn up at the All England Club ready to target Grand Slam title number 23.

When Nadal rocked up at the Australian Open in January, he had not won a major for 15 months, had been out of action for five months due to his chronic foot pain and admitted that he had considered giving it all up for good.

Even in Nadal's wildest dreams, it is unlikely that the Spaniard could have imagined the sequence of events that would unfold over the following six months.

Despite being troubled on a day-to-day basis by the intense pain and discomfort in his feet, his super-human body somehow managed to carry him through 50 incredible sets at the Australian and French Opens to take his overall slam haul to a men's record 22 - including an eye-popping 14 titles at Roland Garros.

"In general, it's just unbelievable what Rafa has achieved," Nadal's great rival Roger Federer, the holder of 20 majors, told Tages-Anzeiger.

"The record of Pete Sampras, which I beat, was 14 Grand Slam titles. Now Rafa won the French Open 14 times. That's unbelievable. He keeps raising the bar. It's gigantic."

Thanks to that unexpected run of success, Nadal arrives at Wimbledon halfway through a calendar-year Grand Slam - a position he has never been in before.

While the sporting world will be willing him to win the third leg of the calendar slam - a feat that was last achieved in 1969 by Rod Laver - the modest Mallorcan crusader is not driven by records or numbers.

"It's not about being the best of the history. It's not about the records," the 2008 and 2010 Wimbledon champion said recently.

"It's about: I like what I do. I like to play tennis. And I like the competition.

"What drives me to keep going is the passion for the game, to live moments that stay inside me forever... and play in front of the best crowds in the world and the best stadiums."

During ...

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