Rafael Nadal recovers from slow start to progress at Wimbledon


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The Independent Online

It took Rafael Nadal time to find his feet on the Wimbledon grass but he eventually saw off the challenge of the free-hitting Thomaz Bellucci.

The second-seeded Spaniard, fresh from a record seventh win at the French Open, is gunning for a third Wimbledon title in 2012 - one that would put him just four behind Roger Federer on 12 grand slams.

This win set him on the way to that but, despite the 7-6 (7/0) 6-2 6-3 nature of it, the 26-year-old has had easier first-round tests, especially in light of the first-set going over he was given.

Bellucci, ranked 80th in the world but with promise beyond that, took the game to Nadal with a positive approach that saw him break twice in succession to move 4-0 ahead.

Underpinning that was a vicious forehand that Nadal could barely get a racquet on, although once the man from Majorca did find some rhythm with two breaks of his own the outcome was rarely in doubt.

That was not the case for those supporting Nadal on Centre Court early on, though. As well as his forehand, Bellucci displayed a more-than-handy serve too, something that helped him save a first-game break point before, in the next game when break point down himself, Nadal played a poor drop shot which was picked off with ease.

A routine hold followed before a memorable fourth game which, after looking like Nadal's when he had ball in hand at 40-30, ended as a double break after Bellucci unleashed three successive fizzing forehands.

At 4-0 down and with an absent first serve, an opening-set whitewash looked possible for Nadal until he turned things around, breaking twice in succession himself as an increase in his aggression on the forehand wing twice forced Bellucci to net.

Serve then held through to a tie-break which Nadal gratefully took without dropping a point.

His tie-break implosion did not immediately affect Bellucci at the start of the second set though, earning himself a break point in the third game with a neat volley, which Nadal staved off.

But Bellucci did start to wobble after that, conceding his serve in the sixth game, with Nadal setting up break point with a wonderful backhand lob and his opponent validating it when he planted a routine one-hander long.

A routine hold to love then indicated Nadal had worn Bellucci down and so it proved in the eighth game, with Nadal earning and taking two set points. Two winning forehands got him in the position and a vicious backhand return took him to 6-2.

It looked as though it would be a procession for Nadal en route to victory after that, especially when he broke in the second game of the third set - Bellucci hitting a backhand wide.

But the break back was immediate, with Bellucci displaying admirable character to pull back into things, applying enough pressure on Nadal to force him to hit off court.

However his revival would only be a temporary one, with Nadal benefiting from a clip on the net to earn a sixth-game break point which he converted with a booming forehand, before seeing the game out.