July 3, 2018
You could feel the love for Rafael Nadal after his 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Dudi Sela. Especially after Rafa took off his sweat-soaked shirt, to bare that famous and ever-muscular torso.
Screams of delight from the passionate crowd, who now know they will see more of the great man in a couple of days.
Waves of admiration for one of our sport’s all-time-greats.
Let’s face it, we are just grateful to have Rafa back at Wimbledon, aren’t we?
He had expressed doubts. Now he will have a little more confidence, even though he probably knows deep down that he must raise his game further still next time out.
How far can Nadal go?
It is not yet clear how he will respond to sustained pressure on grass. This was a rusty performance, laced nevertheless with moments of magic.
The twisting, acrobatic overhead had Centre Court in raptures. The killer drop shot, to hit back when Rafa had been broken, had spectators shaking their heads in disbelief. The bullet pass, to help set up his first match point, was almost too fast for the naked eye.
All seen with mouthwatering clarity from our Wimbledon Debenture Holders seats, situated in the merciful shade, yet close enough to the action to feel part of it.
To those of us who are used to Centre Court, you revisit like an old friend, perhaps the only top sporting arena in the world that oozes such extraordinary intimacy. It feels like home. The very best home.
You can walk down the corridor from your dining room (your preferred Debentures restaurant) to your garden (Centre Court itself) with extraordinary ease.
To those enjoying their first experience of Centre Court, you can almost feel their pleasure. A recognition that what they have previously seen on television is nothing compared to the richness of the atmosphere when you are really there. To be there in the flesh, so close to such legendary players…
Nadal wasn’t given the sternest test today. Sela’s service action doesn’t necessarily belong with the very best, game as he was on the big occasion. The Israeli produced gasps of his own with some of his stroke-play, and endeared himself to the crowd.
But the big points were dominated by Nadal, as he adapted back to a surface that has brought him both glory and pain in the past.
Could this be Rafa’s year to challenge the likes of Federer and Cilic? He will need to hit new heights, but he has all the shots and the determination to do so.
And what about Garbine Muguruza? You could hardly call her Rafa’s warm-up act. Muguruza is reigning Wimbledon champion, a woman of devastating power and poise.
It was tough for home favourite Naomi Broady as she struggled with first-set nerves and went down 6-2. Winning her first game brought a fist pump from the Brit, who served well in that opener but seemed to lack the confidence to take her chances against Muguruza.
That changed in the second set, as Broady grew in stature and really gave it a go. Even though Muguruza won through 6-2, 7-5, the underdog will take plenty from her own magical experience.
For Muguruza, it is the start of what she hopes will be another long journey to the title.
‘I’m back, it’s always good, I’m thinking to win and enjoy this time more,’ she said later.
Fighting talk from a true tennis warrior – just like her compatriot, Nadal.
How lucky we were to witness their brilliance on Centre Court.
What a wonderful day!