Nadal shows intent with demolition of wild card Nishikori

Normal service was resumed on a sun-baked Centre Court yesterday, as Rafael Nadal followed Roger Federer into the second round without anything like as much trouble as the top seed experienced in beating Alejandro Falla in five sets on Monday.

After the battle of the Fs, this was a mere skirmish of the Ns, with Nadal disposing of the wild card Kei Nishikori of Japan in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.

Ominously for the rest of the field – Federer included – the Majorcan looked in terrific form on his return to the All England Club after missing last year's championships with a knee injury, not so much hitting the ball as brutalising it.

Nadal does not consider himself defending champion, yet this was his first time on Centre Court since defeating Federer in that extraordinary 2008 final, and on the evidence of this impressive display it will take some player to end his winning habit. That single Nike swoosh on his white bandanna seemed to represent a tick in every box. Serve, forehand, backhand, volley ... all present and very much correct.

Here Nadal needed to be on top of his formidable game, however. His opponent, aged 20, was voted ATP Newcomer of the Year in 2008 and is stabled at the Bollettieri Academy in Florida, where he is considered to be one of that celebrated establishment's brightest young hopes. In the view of one not-unbiased observer yesterday, he might even be destined for the world's top 20.

It was this correspondent's privilege to be seated in the press box next to Nick Bollettieri himself, who glowed like a proud grandfather as – in the second set especially – Nishikori showed off his full repertoire, which includes a balletic leaping forehand. With Nadal covering the court with his usual panther-like agility, there were times when it could have been another set of Ns out there, Nureyev and Nijinsky

Moreover, if Nadal needed a reminder that he could not afford any lapses of concentration against an opponent who took a set off him in their only previous meeting – a match two years ago in the last 16 at Queen's – it came as early the opening game.

Nishikori raced into a 40-0 lead but then double-faulted, and Nadal pounced like a cat on a hesitant mouse. A break up, he never looked like relinquishing command of the first set.

The second set was a closer affair. The only way to overcome Nadal – in the absence of chloroform – is to return his groundstrokes early and keep him guessing with an array of shots. This Nishikori tried admirably to do, winning the first game with a sublime drop shot that kissed the net-cord on the way over. Like the penalty that goes in off the post, there's no better way of executing a drop shot.

"Kid's good," muttered Bollettieri, nudging in the ribs anyone within nudging distance. He's right, the kid is good. But to beat Nadal in this form you need to be better than good. And you also need luck.

At 4-3 to Nishikori and deuce, a booming Nadal serve down the middle was called out. Break point for a 5-3 lead fleetingly beckoned, until the No 2 seed issued a successful challenge. That was all Nishikori needed. With Nadal on the other side of the net, you don't need Hawk-Eye against you as well.

At 2-3 in the third set Nishikori did finally break the Nadal serve, but the 2008 champion treated this effrontery by breaking straight back. The match followed soon afterwards, but Nishikori at least had the consolation of knowing that he had contributed, at times, to some spectacular tennis.

Nor will defeat diminish his stature in his homeland, where he is already a major star. Japan has never produced a male top-20 player, and if an elbow injury hadn't wiped out most of his 2009 season, he might already be knocking on the door.

As for Nadal, he was asked afterwards for a response to John McEnroe's prediction that he can go on to win "12 or 13 Grand Slams". Ever humble, he said that the seven he already has are more than he ever dreamt of, but even as he spoke, however, the odds were shortening on him soon making it eight.

  • Get to the point
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.

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living