Nadal prepares to park tanks on Federer's lawn

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The Independent Online

Roger Federer beware. Rafael Nadal, the man who thwarted the world No 1's hopes of holding all four Grand Slam titles at the same time, is leaving nothing to chance as he starts the grass-court season. The Spaniard was practising here barely 24 hours after his victory over Federer in Sunday's French Open final in Paris and today makes his Stella Artois Championships debut against Mardy Fish.

As Nadal acknowledges, he has plenty of room for improvement on grass. The world No 2 has played at Wimbledon twice, losing to Paradorn Srichaphan in the third round three years ago and to Gilles Muller in the second round last year. Twelve months ago he played in the pre-Wimbledon tournament at Halle, where Federer traditionally hones his grass-court game, and lost in the first round to Alexander Waske.

"I didn't play very well in Halle," Nadal said yesterday. "I prefer to play here this year because Queen's is more like Wimbledon. The courts are more similar to Wimbledon. I wanted to practise a bit yesterday because I wanted to feel the grass. I felt a bit dizzy on court. My legs are very tired.

"But I feel good now. I didn't have a lot of time yesterday because soon after I'd arrived I was out practising. I was on court quite late, came back to dinner, went to sleep and came back here early today. But I feel OK. It's a different tournament, a different situation, a different surface, different expectations."

After his exertions during the clay-court season, which he completely dominated for the second year in succession, Nadal says his only expectation on grass is "to improve".

He should reach the quarter-finals here, where Lleyton Hewitt is likely to lie in wait, and says he will stay in London in the run-up to Wimbledon if he makes the final. If he is knocked out before then he will go home to Majorca for a few days before returning on Sunday.

Nadal knows he will never be as good on grass as he is on clay but is determined to improve. "I need to change a lot of things in my game and mentally," he said. "I need to play more aggressively. I need to serve more decisively. I need to always serve on grass the way that I serve on the important points on clay."

The 20-year-old's hopes of a late afternoon practice session were foiled by rain, which also thwarted Andy Murray as he was on the point of levelling his first-round match against Janko Tipsarevic. The Scot lost the first set 7-6, but fought back well in the second, in which Tipsarevic was serving at 2-5 when play was stopped.

Despite breaking Tipsarevic's serve in the opening game, Murray played a tentative first set, riddled with errors. He seemed reluctant to go for his shots, even after the Serb had to have his right ankle strapped following a fall, and lost the tie-break 7-3.

Murray's frustrations were clear when he was given a code violation for an "audible obscenity". When he dropped serve in the first game of the second set the omens were not good, but he broke back immediately and had played himself back into the match before the clouds broke. Play was eventually called off for the day at 6.30pm.

Although Murray has had a difficult last four months - beset by injuries and illness, he had won only three of his past 12 matches before arriving here and is still looking for a new coach after parting company with Mark Petchey - this is a tournament that should bring back good memories.

He recorded his first victory on the senior tour here a year ago and followed that up by beating Taylor Dent, the world No 30, and coming within two points of beating Thomas Johansson, the No 20, before suffering an ankle injury and cramp.

Alex Bogdanovic, the British No 4, and Jamie Baker, the No 8, both went out in the first round yesterday. Baker, 19, playing his first match at this level, struggled to make any impact against Fish and won only four games.

Bogdanovic fared better against Russia's Dmitry Tursunov. Bogdanovic lost the last three points of the first-set tie-break and Tursunov did not break serve until the ninth game of the second set before serving out to win 7-6, 6-4.