Rafael Nadal comes through epic tussle against Argentina’s Francisco Cerundolo to reach the second round at Wimbledon as No 2 seed bids to win a third successive Grand Slam
For an old boy with sore feet, the walks are always a little harder these days. But Rafael Nadal still has a habit of getting there in the end, painful step by painful step.
He got that patched up body over the line at the Australian Open in January, he did it again at the French Open this month, and on Tuesday he grinded through his first match at Wimbledon in three years.
Maybe a slog was inevitable – at 36, not many athletes expect an easy day at work. But no one forecast an opening hit quite as tricky as this, so for that some credit to Francisco Cerundolo – he played the match of his life.
Rafael Nadal survived a scare against debutant Francisco Cerundolo at Wimbledon
The world No 41 had never previously reached the second round of a Slam and he still hasn’t. But it was a fine effort, with the 23-year-old Argentine recovering from a deficit of two sets and a break to take the third and he was up in the fourth as well.
At 3-1, he had four further break points in the push to force a decider, but whatever surface you put under Nadal’s feet, the second seed will dig a trench if he senses an opportunity for a good scrap.
This was one of those and his journey from crisis to victory was impressive, providing a thrilling turnaround at the end of a match that took three and a half hours.
The 36-year-old made a successful return following treatment on a chronic foot injury
With it, history remains on his path. In one sense that applies to his late-career push for the calendar Slam. In another, it relates to bigger pictures, whereby his haul of 22 is only two shy of the all-time record held by Margaret Court. Even with feet that require constant treatment, and have him talking about the end, he is hobbling ever closer.
‘That was difficult,’ he said. ‘It was something I expected because I didn’t play on grass for three years. And being honest, Fran played at a very high level for such a long time.’
The broader positive for Nadal may be what has happened elsewhere. The Covid cases to hit the men’s draw in the past day – eighth seed Matteo Berrettini and Marin Cilic, the 14th – were both stripped from his half, clearing two hefty obstacles.
The No 2 seed used all his experience to fight back and delight of a packed Centre Court
There was the potential for awkwardness for Nadal, who had practised with Berrettini in recent days, but the Spaniard reported himself as healthy.
‘For the moment I am feeling great, no problems at all,’ he said. ‘Main thing is I feel very sorry for him because he was playing fantastic, winning two tournaments before the tournament started. He’s a very good colleague on tour and we know each other well. I know how sad probably he will feel today.’
On the court, Nadal had looked a little off-colour initially. In a match of excellent rallies, lit up predominantly by Cerundolo’s big forehand and constant retrievals, Nadal took an early break for 3-1. Cerundolo broke back immediately in a sign that he intended on sticking around and that set a back-and-forth tone which persisted through the second, taken by Nadal 6-3.
He threatened to dominate the third with an early break but the Argentine surged back with two of his own for 6-3, teeing up the brilliant fourth. It could have gone either way; as so often across the past two decades, it went the way of Nadal.
The Argentine upped the tempo and used his booming forehand to take the third set
Nadal is on course for a calendar grand slam following his wins at Australian and French Opens
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