For two points the king of clay looked like a greenhorn of grass. Rafael Nadal played his first match of the grass-court season at the Artois Championships here yesterday and initially moved around the court with all the confidence of a man entering a minefield.
Jonas Bjorkman took the first two points with routine volleys as the 22-year-old Spaniard looked on in apparent bemusement from the baseline. At 30-0, however, Bjorkman had barely made it to the net before Nadal whipped a classic forehand passing shot down the line. Two games later Nadal broke serve and within an hour had completed a 6-2, 6-2 victory.
Bjorkman, 36, is by no means the force he was, but this was a useful opening foray for Nadal, who had claimed his fourth successive French Open title by beating Roger Federer only three days earlier. The world No 2 has barely had time to reflect on that achievement, though he enjoyed travelling by Eurostar to London on Monday afternoon. "That was probably the best moment for me after winning the French Open," he said. "It was the first time when I had some calm and could enjoy the victory."
There was no hangover to handle. "I had dinner with my family and all the people close to me on Sunday night," Nadal said. "We had champagne – but not too much."
On arriving in London Nadal headed straight for the practice court. Another practice session and a doubles match on Tuesday were the only other opportunities to find his feet on grass. "The sensation is a little bit strange on the first day," he said. "The movements are so different, as is the feeling when you hit the ball. As you have more time on court you remember more, so the important thing is to have a lot of time on court. What's most important is that I'll have another match tomorrow."
Having just inflicted on Federer the heaviest defeat of the world No 1's Grand Slam career, Nadal should head for Wimbledon, which begins in 11 days' time, full of confidence. Federer has beaten him in the last two finals at the All England Club, but the Spaniard came desperately close to winning 12 months ago.
Nadal, however, is taking a low-key approach. "I think the important thing is to arrive there playing well," he said. "The first matches will be very important. If you can win the first two or three matches it becomes a little bit easier later, especially if there's sun. That makes the court a little bit tougher and easier for me to play on."
In today's third round Nadal faces Kei Nishikori, an 18-year-old Japanese who beat five higher-ranked players to claim his first senior title at Delray Beach earlier this year. The world No 113 said yesterday that Nadal was his favourite player.
Novak Djokovic, the world No 3, came from behind in the tie-break to beat Croatia's Roko Karanusic 6-2, 7-6, while Andy Roddick, playing his first match since suffering a shoulder injury in Rome last month, recovered from a slow start to overcome Robby Ginepri 6-7, 6-1, 6-1. Roddick now meets another American Mardy Fish.
Ernests Gulbis, the 19-year-old Latvian who reached the quarter-finals of the French Open last week, faces Andy Murray after knocking out Andreas Seppi 6-3, 6-7, 6-3.Reuse content