The first match on Centre Court on Saturday afternoon featured World Number One and recently crowned French Open champion Rafael Nadal and his Australian adversary Alex de Minaur. The youngster from Down Under has experienced a notable surge up the rankings over the course of the last few months and is competing in the Wimbledon main draw competition for the first time his young career. Nadal on the other hand has history at the All England Club. Despite his disappointing results in the last couple of years, the Spaniard has enjoyed success on the sacred grass of Wimbledon with five final appearances and two titles to his name.
Nevertheless, he has not progressed past the fourth round of Wimbledon since 2011. Knowing his work ethics and hunger for shiny trophies, Nadal will be more eager than ever to leave the setbacks of the last few years behind him and instead prove his title ambitions on the court. The former champion kicked his 2018 Wimbledon campaign off with two comfortable straight-set wins over Dudi Sela and Mikhail Kukushkin while de Minaur dropped a set each against this year’s French Open semifinalist, Marco Cecchinato and Pierre-Hugues Herbert.
The pair has never contested a match on the tour before, meaning both players will have to find a matchplan to approach this match-up.
Early in the match it became evident that Nadal had made notable adjustments to his game to suit it for the grass. Despite his traditionally deep return position, he stepped up to the baseline quickly, attempting to take the ball on the rise. Due to de Minaur’s flat groundstrokes rallies stayed short troughout the first set. The Australian first found himself in trouble when serving at 1-2 as Nadal forced him to save a couple of breakpoints. After fending off a few with courageous attacking tennis, Nadal broke through for 3-1.
As Nadal’s level of intensity grew, de Minaur’s error count rocketed and the Spaniard quickly led 5-1. After 32 minutes of Nadal dominance had passed, he had his first three setpoints. Eventually, after saving the first two, the set went Nadal’s way as de Minaur missed a forehand into the net.
Although de Minaur seemd to stabilize his performance on serve, he proved unable to stick with Nadal’s pace and accuracy in longer rallies. Also, his groundstrokes often were prone to errors. Nadal took control of the second set early, establishing a 3-2 lead. The Spaniard held without problems. De Minaur, seemingly overwhelmed, served up two double faults in the following game and surrendered that service game as well soon after. The world’s foremost player then secured a two sets to none lead, saving two breakpoints and delighting the crowd with an exquisitely placed tweener lob in the process. The scoreline in at the second set’s close read 6-2.
Despite a monumental task of coming back from a two set deficit, de Minaur kept offering all the resistance he could. This resulted in many cheeky cat and mouse-style rallies. The audience appreciated the Wimbledon debutant’s efforts, hoping to prolong the match for as long as possible. Nadal however did not let the crowd’s apparent affection toward de Minaur irritate him and continued to employ an effective blend of patient slicing off the backhand and explosive aggressiveness off the forehand. He broke the de Minaur serve in the next game with a crushing forehand return winner down the line to lead 3-2. In addition to his impeccable baseline performance, Nadal posted some very healthy numbers on serve that should bode well for his upcoming matches. The Australian managed to save two matchpoints with some gutsy shots but eventually fell short of eventually breaking his serve. In the end, the third time was the charm for Nadal as he marched on to the second week. When the match was finished, he had won 77% of points off the first serve and a stunning 72% of points off the second serve.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 7, 2018
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