LONDON: There was never a chance Rafael Nadal would take anything for granted as he walked out on Centre Court to play Israel’s Dudi Sela in the Wimbledon first round on Tuesday.
Israeli Sela might be 127th in the world but since Nadal won the last of his two Wimbledon titles in 2010 four players with three-digit rankings have scythed him down on the grass.
Sela did not join Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis, Nick Kyrgios and Dustin Brown on the list of Rafa slayers, though, as a fired-up Nadal romped to a 6-3 6-2 6-2 victory on Centre Court.
Nadal had played no competitive grasscourt matches since bounding to a record-extending 11th French Open title last month but it mattered not as the 32-year-old made an impressive start to his quest for a third French Open/Wimbledon double.
After being cheered loudly on to court the world number one and second seed looked totally at home on the still-lush turf, thumping 31 clean winners past a skilful opponent who lacked the kind of big weapons needed to worry Nadal on grass.
The Spaniard’s only blemish was a double-fault that cost him a break of serve at the start of the third set.
Apart from that it was a trouble-free victory completed with a backhand rifled beyond his 33-year-old opponent.
Nadal’s draw looks promising as he plays 77th-ranked Mikhail Kukushkin next but the Mallorcan knows danger can lurk in unexpected places at the All England Club.
He was happy enough with his start though.
“Good start. Good result. Of course I did things very well, and other things that I have room to improve,” he said.
“I played one bad game with my serve, first game of the third. But I am happy more or less with the forehand. I went to the net quite often. Of course I can improve on the return side. I think the return was the worst thing that I did this afternoon. That’s it no? There are no more strokes to talk,” he added.
Sela resisted well early on, playing his part in some eye-catching rallies, but when he double-faulted to drop serve at 3-4 Nadal assumed control.
Nadal moved two sets clear with a punishing forehand return and although he double-faulted to gift Sela a break at the start of the third he repaired the damage and powered to victory.
The 17-times Grand Slam is looking to emulate his 2008 and 2010 feats when he won the Wimbledon title fresh from triumphing on the Parisian clay.
Only Bjorn Borg has managed it three times, his doubles coming in successive years from 1978-1980.
Spaniard still trails great rival Roger Federer by four major titles, although Swiss star is older
32-year-old wins 17th major, extends clay record to 86 wins with only two defeats
Spaniard says he is not chasing Swiss maestro’s record of 20 Grand Slams titles