Rafael Nadal found himself once again trailing by a set this week at Wimbledon but the two-time champion responded emphatically to beat Mikhail Kukushkin in four sets and move into the fourth round on a rainy day at SW19.
It had been three years since Nadal has made the second week at the All England Club and as he dropped the opening set, playing under the Wimbledon roof for just the second time in his career – the first was his round two defeat to Lukas Rosol in 2012 – the Spaniard joked that maybe the centre court roof is a bad omen.
“When I played the first set, I said that maybe the roof here in Wimbledon is not good for me,” laughed Nadal.
But no rain nor roof could stop the Mallorcan world No1, who blitzed through the next three sets, beating Kukushkin 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 in two hours and 34 minutes.
Both players held on tight to their serve in the first set, which saw no break points on either side but it was Kukushkin who was more aggressive in the tiebreak and took a commanding lead.
But Nadal was unfazed, knowing he had fought back from a set down in each of his previous two rounds, and the No2 seed finally got the first break of the match in the fourth game of the second set, thanks to a crisp backhand return.
It was all smooth sailing from then on as Nadal found his footwork and his shots to march into the last 16. The 28-year-old hit 41 winners to a mere 12 unforced errors.
“Normally I am a good first‑set player. I think my opponent played great the first set today and I think I was playing fine. He played fantastic,” said Nadal, who is bidding to become just the second man to complete the Roland Garros-Wimbledon double on three different occasions.
“I am playing well. I would be lying if I say another thing.
“The feeling was great. I played aggressive. I had great movements. Some ones in difficult positions, I was able to come back on the point. Then when I had chances with the forehand, I was able to play aggressive.”
On how playing under the roof changes conditions, the Spaniard added: “When you play with some wind, when you play outdoor, the court is a little bit more dry. When you play indoors, humid days, the court is a little bit more slippery. That makes the match a little bit different.”
The world No1 next faces 19-year-old Australian Nick Kyrgios, who beat fellow wildcard Jiri Vesely 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-2 to make the fourth round here on his Wimbledon debut.
Roger Federer soon joined Nadal in the second week after the Swiss gave a clinical performance to beat Santiago Giraldo 6-3-, 6-1, 6-3 and notch his 70th win at Wimbledon. He is one victory away from joining Boris Becker in second place on the Open Era list for most matches won here.
“I’m very pleased, absolutely. It’s been a great first week for me,” said Federer. “I’ve been playing good, I’ve been feeling well. Didn’t drop any sets. Got a lot of info from the first week, how I need to play moving forward.”