If his opponents imagine Rafael Nadal is a reduced force at Wimbledon because of his poor run of form on clay this summer, the Spaniard reminded them on Tuesday that the weapons that won him two titles are still functioning efficiently.
Nadal needed a routine win to get his game back in shape after crashing out in the French Open quarter-finals against Novak Djokovic, and he got it on day two here, beating the Brazilian left-hander Thomaz Bellucci 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 in two hours and 10 minutes on a sweltering day on Court No1.
Playing away from the harsher media gaze trained on Centre Court – where Roger Federer was simultaneously moving through the same side of the draw – looked to give Nadal a sense of freedom and he won without much anxiety, on court or on the scoreboard. Having sunk to No10 in the rankings for the first time in a decade, Nadal did not look like a veteran struggling for form.
He hit with certainty and precision, forcing Bellucci into extended rallies and testing his commitment to the fight. The crowd gave Nadal an extended round of applause for his performance.
Bellucci had not taken a set off Nadal in four attempts and there was little likelihood of his doing so here. The 27-year-old clay-courter, ranked 42 in the world, never properly got into the match after trading breaks in the first set, which Nadal wrapped up in 43 minutes.
The second set detained him only a couple of minutes more than the first, and the Spaniard’s attritional top-spin from deep made the struggle a chore on the hottest day of the week so far.
In the third, Bellucci strained at his serving limit to stay in touch, but Nadal – hitting the ball ludicrously hard from behind the baseline – broke for 3-2 with some stunning cross-court winners off the forehand.
After a little over two hours, Bellucci stayed in the struggle with a solid service game before Nadal finished it with a wristy inside-out forehand that the Brazilian could do no more than bat back into the net.
This was vintage Nadal: no frills, no surprises. If he is to do well here, he will not tinker with the game that has served him well through 14 slam titles over as many years.
“You cannot change your basic style – or it is not good to do that,” Nadal told the Guardian. “What you need is to improve all the time, the things that you are good at and the things you are not so good at. Over the years, you lose things in your tennis. If you are not as quick as before, you have to bring something else. That is why for 10, 11 years of my career I have been in a very high position of the rankings – and winning.
“I am working on the same things as always. I know this year I am not playing that well, but I cannot change many things. It’s just a little bit more confidence, play a bit better. With motivation, with work, I am gonna come back, I am sure of it.”
This article was written by Kevin Mitchell at Wimbledon, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 30th June 2015 15.43 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010