RAFAEL NADAL stuttered but didn’t falter as Spanish sport avoided the unneeded embarrassment of another early bath at Wimbledon last night.
Nadal’s recent record at the All England Club teaches you to expect the unexpected. After reaching five consecutive finals he hasn’t progressed beyond the second round in his two last visits – including a first round straight sets defeat to Steve Darcis 12 months ago.
So after he lost the opening set against Martin Klizan, Nadal needed to summon all his fighting spirit to stage a comeback, ending a two-year wait for a win on grass and securing his 700th Tour win with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 scoreline.
However, it won’t get any easier - in a neat twist of symmetry, or a unfortunate twist of fate, he now plays Lukas Rosol, who beat Nadal in the second round two years ago.
“I’m just happy to be through, my goal was just to win, it’s impossible to play your best in the first round,” said Nadal, who arrives at Wimbledon after winning his ninth French Open title in Paris two weeks ago.
“He was a dangerous opponent and it takes time to make the transition from clay to grass.
“I’m just excited to win on Centre Court again. I’ve great memories of that court but I won’t lie, losing in the first and second round there in the last two years, it stays in your mind.
“The next round doesn’t get any easier, it’s going to be another tough match. I have to play my best to win, he’s a very powerful player and I need to have the right attitude from the start.”
There was a time, not that long ago, when Nadal and Federer were the only names to follow at Wimbledon.
In the space of ten years they won nine titles, for three straight years they reached the final, including a 2008 tussle that many believe is one of the greatest matches ever played.
But while the swagger is still there, the air of invincibility has evaporated. Neither is favourite this time around, the smart money being on either Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray, last year’s finalists, on the other side of the draw.
Federer might be losing sleep these days but it’s not yet the prospect of his future opponents at Wimbledon that is keeping him awake yet.
Federer, the number four seed, has never taken his career by halves, with 17 Grand Slam titles, including a record seven here at Wimbledon, on his resume.
And he’s got the same approach to fatherhood, with his wife Mirka recently giving birth to twin boys Leo and Lenny, who join twin sisters, five next month, in Federer’s travelling and rather noisy entourage.
So perhaps he was happy to avoid the chaos at home to enjoy a relaxing knockabout here, the number four looking untroubled in a 6-1 6-1 6-3 win over Italian Paolo Lorenzi, who has never won a match at a Grand Slam in 13 attempts.
“Mirka is in charge, I’m just trying to be helpful as much as I can,” said Federer. “However, the girls certainly sleep better at night.”
Whether he or Nadal have another Wimbledon nightmare though, that remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, British number five Daniel Smethurst went down in straight sets to big serving American Jon Isner but he emerged with credit from the 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 scoreline.
“I didn’t realise the crowd would get into it so much,” he said.
“I was overwhelmed by that. I’ve never had a crowd backing me like that before and that was a great experience.”