Rafael Nadal shows resilience to battle past Francisco Cerundolo on Wimbledon return

The Spaniard was pushed hard by the Argentine over three and a half hours on Centre Court before booking his place in the second round

Wimbledon: Andy Murray throws underarm serve to delight Centre Court crowd

Rafael Nadal battled, clawed and eventually scraped his way through a gruelling first round match to hold off Father Time a little longer.

A weary yet delighted figure embraced an adoring Centre Court crowd three and a half hours after bouncing into this theatre like a prize fighter before the first bell. Nadal soaked in the crackle of applause that permeated Centre Court throughout this gripping contest against Francisco Cerundolo. The 36-year-old has passed another stern physical examination, knowing the fragility of his standing at the top of the game.

Back for the first time in three years after a four-set loss to fellow titan Roger Federer, the Calendar Slam is remarkably still in play for the first time in Nadal’s career. The fact that Nadal was able to stroll onto Centre Court was another victory in a year filled with them.

A difficult build-up involving rehabilitation and treatment has served as a reminder that Nadal’s exhilarating best this year has come out of the shadows of agonising pain that emphasise his stunning longevity in the midst of his 20th year as a professional. Some in the game have lauded Nadal and the “miracle” that is this year so far, with a 30-3 record enhancing his immortal status in the game after outlasting Daniil Medvedev over five sets in Melbourne before underlining one of sport’s great inevitabilities with a 14th crown at Roland Garros.

Here we witnessed the strength of Nadal, pushed to his limited by the world No 41 over three and a half hours as he battles to contain the effects of his chronic foot pain, known as Mueller-Weiss Syndrome. The very real fear around the sport is that Nadal’s next Grand Slam could be his last. Only a few weeks ago he declared there were “no feelings” in his left foot, although he has since avoided one of those “terrible days” where he simply “cannot move at all”.

Spain's Rafael Nadal reacts as he plays against Argentina's Francisco Cerundolo

A glimmer of another improbable Grand Slam shines brighter with Covid dashing the hopes of Marin Cilic and Matteo Berrettini, who pulled out on Tuesday morning, making Nadal’s half of the draw even more appetising.

As the match began, the roar from Court Three echoed around SW19; Nick Kyrgios and Paul Jubb’s five-set classic reached its climax. Meanwhile, Nadal was starting to contend with the Argentine’s aggressive strategy, notably a sledgehammer-like forehand, which left the Spaniard frozen in admiration at times.

But a first ‘vamos’ of the match, signifying the sturdy test ahead, arrived in the ninth game at four games apiece when Nadal saved a third breakpoint. Then the roles were reversed a game later, Cerundolo succumbing instead as Nadal bludgeoned a series of double-handed backhands to his forehand side to pick up the first set.

Both men then showed finesse to compliment their power; a number of exquisite slices were exchanged at a pivotal point in the match at 3-2 in the second. Nadal, making a mockery of his team’s caution at the “very unforgiving” surface just weeks after the clay court season, produced a masterclass at picking the ball up as it kissed the grass each time. And Cerundolo cracked under pressure, conceding the crucial break en route to a two-set deficit.

Then, a stunner: Cerundolo was struck by bolt of inspiration, displaying some fearless tennis to unsettle his legendary opponent as the finish line approached. The third set soon secured and Nadal was clearly on the ropes. The break points piled up against Nadal as he struggled to pick up cheap points; every service game became a grind. Five in the third game of the fourth set and four more in the fifth, but a break down a facing the daunting prospect of a fifth set, Nadal flipped the momentum once more.

But a break back and suddenly Cerundolo was the man looking sorry. Nadal sensed blood and refused to pass up his opportunity as his opponent had done countless times moments earlier. A four-set win (6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4) to underline the true resilience of a champion, the perfect year is still alive.

Spain's Rafael Nadal returns the ball to Argentina's Francisco Cerundolo

Kyrgios prevails over Jubb in classic

If Nadal validated his status as the greatest threat to a fourth successive title for Novak Djokovic, then Nick Kyrgios justified his standing as tennis’ rockstar, barely emerging from an engrossing five-set encounter with spirited wildcard Paul Jubb.

If styles make fights, then Kyrgios and Jubb gleefully countered one another to produce an early contender for match of the championships.

Kyrgios’ mood was merely prickly as he woke up Court Three, but it did not take the controversial Australian long to simmer to a boil. The 27-year-old only needed three games, riled by spectators chatting between points, to provide the spark to ignite a feverish crowd.

Australia's Nick Kyrgios (R) shakes hands with Britain's Paul Jubb

As Kyrgios directed his ire towards umpire Marija Cicak, the young Yorkshireman seized upon this momentary lapse in concentration to snatch the first set via an array of pure strokes to topple his heavy-hitting opponent.

This intimate bowl, tucked away on the outside courts, quickly emerged as the epicentre of Wimbledon once the former junior world No1 responded admirably in the second set, gesticulating furiously at his racket which failed to come under his spell. With the mere whiff of an upset in the air, Kygios revelled in the occasion to deliver the kind of sumptuous tennis that has seen him labelled as a dark horse to triumph over the coming fortnight.

Whether that comes to fruition remains to be seen, but Kyrgios is more than just a contender during the sport’s month-long jaunt with grass. A comedian, racket-wielding magician and straight-talking spokesman for the sport rolled into one. His exaggerated cries after each of three straight unreturned first serves thrilled the Australians in attendance. Then a series of tweener serves and shots further bamboozled the impressive Jubb, who refused to wilt and extended the match into a tense fifth, only for Kyrgios to outlast the 22-year-old and alert the public to his appointment viewing when he returns on Thursday.

Nick Kyrgios of Australia reacts in the men's first round match against Paul Jubb

Peniston extends hot streak on Wimbledon debut

If Jubb fell agonisingly short, British interest was buoyed by Ryan Peniston, shining bright on debut in SW19 to outclass Henri Laaksonen and defy his world ranking of 135 with a 6-4 6-3 6-2 win.

Peniston, who overcame a rare cancer as a child, continues to ride the crest of a wave following eye-catching displays to go deep at Eastbourne, Queen’s and Nottingham. There is noticeable resilience from Peniston, who fended off three break points in the second set before quickly countering with a break of his own. A ruthless streak then and at the conclusion of the third, with back-to-back breaks, sets up a compelling match against American Steve Johnson next.

Jack Draper is also through, with a second-round meeting against Alex de Minaur in store. The British No4 rolled Zizou Bergs in straight sets victory (6-4, 6-4, 7-6).

Great Britain lost another wildcard in Jay Clarke though, with his match carrying over from Monday due to bad light. The 23-year-old fell 7-6 (7-3) 6-1 7-6 (8-6) to American Christian Harrison.

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