Nadal scrubs out Childs after refreshing shower break

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The Independent Online

Trust the English weather to throw a Spaniard in the works. Just when it seemed that Lee Childs, Bridgwater's No 1 and the world's No 487, was about to launch an improbable fightback against Rafael Nadal, the 17-year-old Majorcan who comes from distinguished sporting stock, down came the rain.

Childs, the 21-year-old conqueror of the No 33 seed, Nikolay Davydenko, on Monday, had lost the opening two sets 6-2, 6-3 without ever looking capable of breaking the left-hander's serve. Yet all that changed in the third set, when he broke Nadal's first two service games and led the world No 78 by 3-1 as the drizzle began to fall.

Nadal, whose early mastery had all but deserted him, cut a jaded figure as he held his serve before the covers went on. However, when the players resumed an hour later, he looked refreshed and ready to retake control. Childs mustered just four more points as Nadal took the next four games in 11 minutes and the set 6-3.

"The rain came at a good moment for me," Nadal conceded. "He was hot at that moment and maybe I wasn't hitting the ball that well. I felt I played better in the first two sets of my first-round match than in this one. Lee started to play well near the end of the second set, and I wasn't that fast on my legs, which is very important on this surface."

As for his expectations now that he has reached the last 32, Nadal added: "The most normal thing would be for me to lose in the next round. Before coming here I said if I could lose my first match in five sets, I would have signed up for that. I'd have been happy because I wouldn't have to play for a month! Now I can only say I'll do my best and we'll see."

Despite this match being contested on Childs' "home" surface and before a partisan crowd, the eventual outcome was as one might have expected from a match that was a proxy version of Millwall against Real Madrid (the football clubs favoured by the respective players, Nadal's uncle Miguel Angel having been dubbed "The Beast of Barcelona" during a career as a defensive bruiser which also included a fluffed penalty against England at Euro 96).

His nephew has come a long way since reaching the semi-finals of junior Wimbledon last year and in April became the first 16-year-old to break into the Top 100 of the ATP rankings since Michael Chang in 1988. He wears his hair long behind a headband, making him look as if he would be equally at home in the mosh pit at Glastonbury this weekend, though there is more to Nadal than a flamboyant image.

In the first two sets the disparity between himself and Childs was striking. Unusually for a Spaniard, he was immediately at home on the grass and darted in to the net for the first of several stunning volleys during the opening service game by Childs. Shades of Manuel Santana, the 1966 champion, who started out on clay but honed his serve-and-volley expertise under the tutelage of fellow tourists such as the Australians.

Among more contemporary players, Nadal is bound to be compared with Boris Becker, if only because the German was also 17 when he stormed the All England citadel in 1985. While Nadal has a sound temperament and is already versed in gamesmanship, the questions Childs posed about his stamina and concentration will be asked increasingly as the championships progress.

Childs can take heart from his performance here, especially since he had never played a five-set match before Monday. His serve, a formidable weapon on the domestic circuit, translated effectively to a grand slam event. Nine aces, against three by Nadal, testified to his improvement. Now he must work at cutting out the unforced errors, and on developing the ruthlessness to finish off faltering opponents.

Perhaps it is simply not in the British tennis players' psyche. Whereas Nadal emitted a loud barking sound with every thrust of his racket and clenched a fist after every winner, Childs offered the stiff upper lip, breaking a silence of almost Trappistch proportions only once with an impromptu shout of "Come on!". Like his fate, it seemed all too typically English.