Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Nadal Has His Fizz Back and Is Ready to Produce More Champagne Moments

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Nadal Has His Fizz Back and Is Ready to Produce More Champagne Moments

Article excerpt

Byline: Dan Jones

MOMENTS before the start of the match on Court No1 yesterday, a champagne cork left its bottle with a loud, wet pop. The crowd tittered. The stewards narrowed their eyes. Somewhere in the stands a plastic flute was frothing over with the good stuff and there could not have been a more suitable sound than cork-shot to announce the return of Wimbledon's beautiful Brut, Rafael Nadal.

It is seven years since Rafa won his last championship here, and six since the 2011 final that he lost to Novak Djokovic. In the intervening years he has not made it past the fourth round.

He missed last year's tournament and was knocked out in the years preceding by Lukas Rosol (2012), Steve Darcis (2013), the 19-year old debutant Nick Kyrgios (2014) and Dustin Brown (2015), none of them rated better than No100 in the world. SW19 has become his bogey postcode, the place he comes to lose to someone rank.

This year, however, Nadal (below) and the crowds who worship him have cause to hope. Their darling has arrived at Wimbledon in his best form for a goodly while, with an Aussie Open final under his belt, his 10th French Open the decima in the bag and something of his old indomitability back.

He skipped the Aegon Championships at Queen's last month, citing exhaustion, but choosing downtime over time on the lawns seems to have worked. He absolutely marmalised the Australian John Millman yesterday, winning 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 in no time at all. The bookies' collective opinion that Rafa is second favourite behind Roger Federer strikes me as somewhere between premature and insane, but we can certainly say this: he played as well yesterday on grass as he has for half a decade.

Which is not nothing. The 28-year-old Millman, ranked No137 in the world, is tall and rangy, with a serve that thuds even if it does not exactly boom. He is just the sort of player who might in other years have tested Nadal to destruction.

Not so yesterday. Nadal's forehand was fierce and he moved about the unworn grass apparently untroubled. He varied powerhitting with intelligent movement inside the baseline, and threw in enough delicate, dinky drop-shots to prevent Millman from settling in to trade from the back of the court. …

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