Tuesday 16 January 2018

Wimbledon 2017: Rafael Nadal back to his impressive best with a comprehensive straight-set win

The Spaniard, who hasn't made an impression here since 2011, won 6-1 6-3 6-2

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Rafael Nadal strolled into the second round of Wimbledon with a performance of such authority that Australian John Millman, no 137 in the rankings, never had the slightest chance.

It might not sound like much but then Nadal has not made a serious impression on Wimbledon since 2011, when he lost the final to Novak Djokovic. Since then he has gone out in the first round once and the second round twice, losing three times to players from outside the top 100.

But Nadal is back, playing his best tennis in years, and he proved that again on Number 1 court this afternoon, winning 6-1 6-3 6-2. There was never any doubt that he would not fall to Millman as he has done recently enough here to Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis and Dustin Brown.

It was clear from the very start that Nadal’s old physical power was back. He has had a tough time with injuries recently, not least with his wrist, but he showed at Roland Garros last month that he has rediscovered part of what made him so good. After a bad 2015 and a dismal 2016 he has certainly won back part of what he lost.

Even in the very first game here, when Nadal broke Millman, his returns from the back of the court were too strong for his opponent to ever be able to do anything much with them. Once Nadal was ahead, there was never any question that he would hold on and move forward to the second round.

Any lingering doubts about the mobility of the 31-year-old were dispelled, he moved freely around the court, got up and down, and put Millman away at almost every opportunity. For all of the Australian’s earnest running, and the support from the Australian ‘Fanatics’ in the crowd, he could barely ever get close.

Nadal won the first set 6-1 but it was in the second and third sets that he found his stride with some of his most expansive, expressive tennis. In the fifth game of the second set, Nadal ended a 34-shot rally with a brilliant forehand winner down the line, perfectly placed. It earned him a standing ovation from the Number 1 court crowd.

Millman, as it happened, broke Nadal in that game, but Nadal broke straight back and then cantered away with the second set, taking it with another delightful winner.

In the very first game of the third set, another brilliant forehand winner down the line sent Nadal on his way. Millman’s resistance started to falter even if he was roared on by the crowd following one painful fall.

The contest was over by this point and Nadal could already start to think about the second round. That is the stage he went out at two years ago, of course, but he already looks fitter and sharper now than he did then. The second week awaits.

(© Independent News Service)

Independent News Service

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