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.”
We all know the people at the All England Club just love their rules.
It’s one of the strictest places on the planet and it’s no surprise they’ve updated their guidelines this year, just in case they weren’t stringent enough before.
A new rule regarding competitors’ all-white dress code now has expanded to cover players’ underwear and any clothing items that become “visible during play due to perspiration”.
The new rule also states that players may only break up their all-white outfits with a coloured trim of 1cm width on the trim of their garments.
Roland Garros doubles runner-up Marc Lopez fell foul to the rule the other day because he was wearing black underwear under his shorts.
The umpire asked the Spaniard if he could change into white underwear.
He eventually let him play the match but told him he has to make sure he’s wearing white ones for the next round.
It drove Lopez’ doubles partner Marcel Granollers to tweet about it saying it was “incredible”.
“Ya lo que faltaba,” said Granollers which roughly translates to “(all these rules) and now this!”
Henman Hill or Murray Mound?
The debate continues as to whether what was originally named Aorangi Terrace should remain a tribute to retired Brit Tim Henman or should carry the name of reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray.
The terrace is officially named Murray Mound on Google Maps apparently.
“If anyone from Google wants to set foot at Wimbledon they’d better get that sorted,” joked Henman.
Tsonga, the lovable
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is quite the charmer and yesterday he reminded us just to what extent he really is.
The Frenchman accidentally hit a spectator on the chest with a ball and after the match, he remembered where she was sat, went up to her and gave her his towel.
A nice gesture from the big man.
Just a year ago, she was on her way to winning the Wimbledon junior title.
Today, Belinda Bencic is through to her first grand slam third round and is set to take on No.3 seed Simona Halep for a spot in the second week.
Considered she was ranked 300 spots below her current ranking of 71 this time last year, Bencic’s rapid rise has been phenomenal, particularly for a 17-year-old who has the added pressure of being dubbed the “New Martina Hingis”.
“I’m motivated that Switzerland is thinking this of me. I’m really motivated to do better,” said Bencic.
“I don’t really try to let the pressure come to me. I just focus on the game.
“It all went really quick. I don’t know if it’s a surprise or not. I’m really happy that I could start in the main draw here after winning the juniors last year.”
Halep will be Bencic’s third top-five opponent of the season and the young Swiss says she’s looking forward to facing the Roland Garros runner-up.
“She played the French Open final and she’s the third seed here. So I’m really just happy to play her,” said Bencic.
“No pressure tomorrow. I will just play my best game. Of course I’m going to the court and I think I have a chance to beat her and I really want to win.”
Halep acknowledges she is a heavy favourite against her opponent but the Romanian herself had never made it past the second round at major prior to last year’s US Open and says she wants to enjoy her first third round experience at the All England Club.
“She has nothing to lose against me. Also, I have nothing to lose because it’s my first time in the third round here in Wimbledon. On grass it’s always difficult to play. So I have my chance tomorrow. I will fight for it,” said Halep.
Meanwhile, despite Spain’s early exit from this year’s World Cup, the action in Brazil has been a nice distraction for Rafael Nadal, who faces Mikhail Kukushkin in the third round today.
The world No1, who was stretched to four sets in each of his first two rounds, says he relishes the change in routine he gets to enjoy during Wimbledon, particularly in a World Cup year.
“It’s easier (to switch off between my matches) when it is a World Cup year,” said the two-time Wimbledon champion.
“We are in a nice house. I have my coaches here. I have Marc Lopez with me at the house. I have my team. We play little bit of different games. Maybe one day we go out.
“But seriously we go to restaurants every single day of the rest of the year. So when we are here I like to cook, I like to be a little bit more relaxed at home and see the World Cup. I love football.”