December 20, 2014
Nadal fights through Wimbledon first round
It was a jittery first outing for Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon today. Memories of his chequered recent history at the tournament, the fast grass and a tough opponent combined to cause the world No.1 some anxious moments.
But Nadal is nothing if not a fighter and he said it was that quality that saw him through his 4-6 6-3 6-3 6-3 victory over Slovakia's Martin Klizan, even if he felt well short of 100 percent comfortable on Centre Court.
"I won. That's the most important thing. I didn't play much on grass for the last three years. So always, it's like you restart," Nadal said.
"In the end the match was difficult ... So I was able to fight. I was able to try to find some solutions, some changes during the match."
Two gruelling weeks sliding and rallying on clay at Roland Garros earned Nadal his 14th grand slam title, but grass feels alien to him even after his triumphs here in 2008 and 2010.
"I think I can do it better than I did today, but at the same time I knew I would not play today at 100 percent. I would not play perfect today after not playing in grass for a while."
Nadal's past two Wimbledon forays were cut short when he lost in the second round in 2012 and the opening round last year. He also tumbled out of the Halle warm-up event in the first round two weeks ago, so he was looking to break a three-match grasscourt losing streak.
"When I am playing on clay, I don't have to think a lot about what I have to do ... because all the things come together and are automatic," the Spanish world No.1 said.
"Here you need to adjust the movement. You need to adjust the rhythm. You need to find the right feeling on the speed of the ball. You need to find the right places to serve because the serve is so important."
Klizan, 24 years old and ranked 51 in the world, gave Nadal the grasscourt workout he needed. His fizzing forehands, returning the Spaniard's serves at 100 mpg (160 kph), kept Nadal at bay and he served with verve to take the first set.
Nadal clawed his way back into the match, chasing down every shot and producing some crowd-pleasing tumbles, especially when he leapt up again to win the point.
As his confidence grew, so Klizan's faded and it was the battling champion who survived to fight another day - as the draw would have it, against 2012 conqueror Lukas Rosol.
"He's an aggressive player. It will be a tough match again," Nadal said. "I know if I want to have chances to win, I need to play very well."