James Lawton: Nadal makes himself at home during destruction of courageous Russell

Rafa Nadal was treated with all the deference that goes to a reigning, popular monarch. The Centre Court started off reverential and became increasingly warm and his parents, Sebastian and Anna Maria, seemed to fill the Royal Box with their pride.

The only one apparently unaware that this was supposed to be a day of homage rather than competition was 33-year-old American Michael Russell, an opponent from the margins of big-time tennis who had clearly decided that if he couldn't beat the champion he would go down hard and defiant.

Nor had Russell heard the advice offered to another man facing a dominant sportsman by his gnarled old trainer. "Whatever you do," the young Mike Tyson's opponent was told, "don't land a punch. That will really piss him off." Russell, who moved from the tough town of Detroit to Dallas in his youth and after all his years on the circuit is now ranked at 97, had a similar effect on Nadal when he jumped into a 4-2 first-set lead with brilliant effort and some kamikaze diving at the net. Nadal frowned, gathered up his most resolute mood and then started firing a series of Exocet missiles across the net. For a little while they were placed so absolutely unerringly that Russell looked genuinely contrite and promptly lost the first 6-4.

However, submission does not come naturally to this adopted Texan whose parents are both tennis coaches and perhaps he kept remembering something John McEnroe said about him during his previous attempts to ambush some of tennis's marquee figures.

"No one will ever try harder on a tennis court than Michael Russell," said the former champion in acknowledgement of gritty performances against French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten 10 years ago, Lleyton Hewitt in the Australian Open and and an upset defeat of Nadal's victim in last year's final, Tomas Berdych.

If, however, you piled up all this impressive evidence of resolution, and then solemnly considered the prospects of the diminutive Russell when facing the world's No 1-ranked player, you were still left with a huge imbalance.

This made Nadal's winning score of 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 something of a formality but before it was confirmed we did have some remarkably rousing exchanges. At the end, with Nadal serving on match point, Russell had the temerity to challenge what to most of our naked eyes seemed like a stonewall ace. However, Hawkeye ruled with the battling Russell, who promptly threw a fist in the air. Nadal smiled hugely and proceeded towards the coup-de-grace. When it came, there was an additional bonus for his admiring fans. He took off his shirt.

Later, he said he was grateful for the force of the first-set wake-up call that jolted him out of the slumbers brought on by his retreat to Majorca after a weary defeat at Queen's. Nadal said: "I'm especially happy about this first-round win because of the way I played in the second and third sets. I think he started playing very well, aggressive with some very good returns. My mistake in the beginning was to try to play too fast and I made some mistakes with the backhand and the forehand – and so he had the break.

"But after that I started to change a little bit more the rhythm with the slice, trying to play a little longer points, trying to hit the forehand when I had the chance. I think I did well after that first moment of the first set. My level in general I think was positive, no?" Yes, indeed. In fact the exercise became increasingly impressive and by the end of it there was some disconcerting evidence for local hero Andy Murray that Nadal, the champion of 2008, epically, and last year, has some considerable reasons to consider himself at least half way at home over the next two weeks.

Nadal refused to look beyond his second-round opponent, another relatively obscure American, Ryan Sweeting, ranked No 69 in the world but a resolute winner over Spain's Pablo Andujar after losing the first two sets.

The question concerned the opponent he feared most, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Murray. "Many people think it is so close between the four of you, what do you think?" he was asked.

"I think my biggest opponent is Sweeting now. I am focused on my part of the draw. I am focused on myself. To play against the other three can only be in a semi-final or the final. So let's talk about today. Let's talk about tomorrow. Don't let's talk about 10 or 12 days' time because I do not know if I will be here or fishing in Majorca. You never know what's going to happen in a tournament like this."

One reasonable projection is the growth of Nadal's confidence. In the third set yesterday his calculations became increasingly refined. That they were accomplished with so much of his vaunted power made the process deeply impressive. Russell made an engaging show of resistance but no one needed to tell him that he was playing one of sport's less intriguing roles.

Now another scrapper, Sweeting, steps up to the barricade and if he had any illusions about catching the champion at something less than full bore they were buffeted, if not shot through, by the time Nadal left the premises.

"I played against him two times this year, one time in Australian, one time in Indian Wells," said Nadal.

"He had a fantastic comeback today, so probably he arrives to our match with good confidence. I think he is a good player, no? I saw him winning matches around the tournaments. He's playing better and better every time. We will see. I have to play aggressive like every day. That, hopefully, will be enough. If not, I congratulate the opponent."

Sweeting will know, like the rest of tennis, that it is an offer somewhat lacking in guarantees. The Centre Court gave Nadal and his people the warmest of welcomes – and they promptly pulled up their chairs. It is a fiesta, you have to believe, that can run for quite some time. Another 12 days? You wouldn't want to bet against it.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
News
peopleEnglishman managed the quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape