May 29, 2018
Rafael Nadal gave hope to his rivals with a tentative performance against the talented Simone Bolelli.
Sure, the favourite won through 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (11-9). And on the face of it there was little problem.
But in reality Nadal’s serve looked vulnerable in each set of an absorbing match, spread over two days after a rain delay.
It wasn’t just that Bolelli led 3-0 overnight in the third. The Italian had a break point to go 5-3 ahead in the decider too – and led 6-3 in the ultimately fatal tie-break. But he couldn’t find the final point he needed to prolong the encounter.
In the second set, Bolelli could have gone 4-1 ahead with a little more confidence, and it wasn’t as though Nadal dominated the opener as we might have expected either.
In fact it is fair to say that Rafa didn’t so much win this match, as Bolelli lost it.
Time and again the underdog rallied his way into a winning position, only to come up with an unforced error instead of the killer blow.
So what does this mean for Nadal? He had an answer of his own. ‘Well at this early stage the important thing is to win through, especially if a match has been tough like this one. Simone had so many chances to win the third.’
Rafa isn’t wrong. Win ugly if you have to, and improve as you move through the fortnight, then emerge the eventual winner. Novak Djokovic used to do it all the time at other Slams.
And yet Nadal has got a lot of mileage out of his fearsome reputation on clay. Opponents often feel beaten before they start. But that aura of invincibility wasn’t there against Bolelli.
So why should the rest of his opponents be scared? That’s not to say Rafa won’t still win the tournament. Just that he didn’t look like the eventual winner in the first round!
Meanwhile Maria Sharapova came much closer to defeat in her first-round match against Richel Hogenkamp. She was 0-3 down in the deciding set, only to triumph 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.
That’s the thing about the champions. If they spot a moment of self-doubt in their adversary, they play on it to the max, and use their opponent’s nerves against them.
Not that rising British star Kyle Edmund was ever pushed too hard by Alex De Minaur. The man making so many waves in the absence of his compatriot, Andy Murray dispatched the threat from the youngster with an assured 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 victory.
Edmund is looking more and more like a man worth watching at Wimbledon 2018. We hope you’ll be there to see Kyle, Andy, Roger Federer and all the big stars!