Rain delayed Rafael Nadal’s pathway to the Wimbledon third round on Thursday night despite the Centre Court having a movable roof. The covering that went on in 2009 is reluctantly used because lawn tennis is deemed an outdoor game and should be played how its forebears wished.
Tournament host the All England Lawn Tennis Club subscribes to that traditional view; as Nadal was chugging through his match against Ricardas Berankis 6-4, 6-4, 4-6 and led 3-0 in the fourth, a large black cloud emptied over the site at 6.45pm, closing every court.
With initial hopes that the clouds would blow over dashed, the slow grind of the roof closing brought some cheer to the crowd, the players arriving back at around 7.30pm for a knock-up and Berankis resuming play five minutes later 3-0 down but with advantage and on serve. That was instantly converted for 3-1 with Nadal on delivery.
Berankis had been stubbornly resisting Nadal’s hopes of getting into the locker room in three sets. But his ground strokes were strong and Nadal, perhaps not at his best, struggled to find openings until the final game of the first set. But Nadal was in cruise control with his serve, which was up at over 80 per cent to Berankis.
By then the match was in the grip of the 36-year-old, the downpour failing to spook the 22-times Grand Slam winner. It is a rare occurrence for Nadal to concede from two sets and a service break-up in any Grand Slam event.
Nadal served for 4-1 and the Lithuanian held for 2-4. He had to break serve but almost out-punched the former champion, dictating the points with his two-fisted backhand in the next game. But a deep unreturnable serve to the Berankis backhand brought Nadal to 5-2.
If timing is everything Nadal found that in time. Three serves Berankis could not return and an ace to finish wrapped up the match.
“Not the best start, honestly, and probably the best finish,” said a candid Nadal. “I finished playing well. The fourth set has been the level of tennis for me, important improvement. The rest of the things I have room to improve. But, yeah, it’s a victory in four sets, spend three hours on the court again, that helps.”
And what about the roof closing and breaking up the match? For Wimbledon it never rains but it pours.
“I respect that and I understand. We’re playing in an outdoor tournament. If the prediction was a quick shower, why not? Then the situation change,” said Nadal. “Have been longer shower, so then decided to close the roof. No problem at all. I think they did the right process. Is true that maybe we could close the roof like three minutes before because is true that take long time because the court was wet when they come back. Even when we are playing, when we came back, the court was more slippery.”
The colourful Nick Kyrgios bandwagon also rumbled on. Actually, it picked up some pace. Much to the delight of the younger fans, who squeezed into the number two court, the anti-hero of Wimbledon followed up a faltering first-round win with a thrilling straight three-set win over Serbian Filip Krajinovic.
The heavily tattooed Kyrgios sought no conflict with the crowd this time out and fizzed the ball as Krajinovic waited for some sort of self-implosion. But it didn’t arrive in the 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 win.
That will please the organisers. Kyrgios, who opted for a couple of unnecessary tweeners in his one-way match, couldn’t entirely shake off the image of a showman who wants to entertain. Neither effort was successful, but there was no doubting his ability to play a carefree style backed up by serving that, when on song, troubles every player.
No one doubts the Australian’s ability, just his dedication to winning given the other challenges he simultaneously takes on: spitting, quarrelling with the crowd, arguing with the line judges and umpires. But Thursday was entirely spittle-free, lacking profanities, clear of threats and insults.
Apart from a popping champagne cork that drew a lairy look and a complaint over badly timed cough while he was about to serve. it was his 130mph serve, his forehand and pinpoint accuracy that drew the noise from the spectators.
Krajinovic won just 10 points off the Kyrgios serve over the three sets. It was that one-sided.
“What are you going to write about now?” he asked in his press conference. “I’ve dumbfounded you all. I was pretty disappointed in my performance in the first round. Then obviously the media’s disrespect and just everything, it was just kind of a reminder to put you all back in your place from the performance today.
“I just feel like I’m comfortable in my own skin. Some people, like, love to just tear me down. It’s just not possible any more. I just want to give people who watch this press conference or watch my tennis to just believe in yourself, be yourself, don’t be someone else up here either.
“I couldn’t care less if there is an investigation [into spitting] about me doing that, to be brutally honest with you. I know what I bring to the sport. One of the most important people in the sport. Do you want to speak about that?”
Unseeded Kyrgios faces Stefanos Tsitsipas on Saturday in the third round.