Rafael Nadal needed to dig deep to see off a spirited Francisco Cerundolo and win his first round Wimbledon match 6-4 6-3 3-6 6-3 on Tuesday.
The 22-time Grand Slam winner had to battle hard to clinch the first set and conceded the third set before coming from a break down in the fourth to secure his place in the next round and avoid an almighty upset.
The Spaniard will play Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis next after the world No. 106 knocked out 2017 semi-finalist Sam Querrey in straight sets on Court 5.
“All credit to Fran. I think he started to play well and he was a very tough opponent,” Nadal said in his on-court interview afterwards.
“Having not played here for three years [it was difficult], but it’s great to be back. It’s always amazing to play on [Centre] Court.
“It’s not a surface we play on often; especially in my case, for different reasons. The last three years I didn’t [set] foot on a grass court. It’s taken a while; every day is a test, and today was one of th[ose] important tests. Especially considering the physical state I arrived in, the victory allows me to train tomorrow with another match in two days.”
“It’s obvious that when you play well at Roland-Garros there isn’t much time between [the two tournaments].
“I used to remember the beautiful days where I’d win Roland-Garros one day and the next I’d be practicing at Queen’s, but my body is not allowing me to [anymore].
“The most important thing for me is that I am at Wimbledon 2022 and I have won my first match.”
Nadal started understandably slowly given his lack of on-court time following his injury, and whilst he broke Cerundolo in the fourth game, his 23-year-old opponent immediately broke back.
Nevertheless Nadal started to find his groove, and despite some dogged resistance, the Spaniard sealed the set with another break.
Things were smoother for Nadal in the second as he broke early, and nearly found a second, as he moved to one set away from victory.
Nadal went a break up in the third game of the third set with a service return that forced an error from the Argentine, but Cerundolo broke straight back to love with a sublime return winner.
Cerundolo continued to apply the pressure and went a break ahead for the first time in the match when Nadal ripped a forehand into the net. He successfully served out the set after rescuing two break points.
Momentum was with Cerundolo and he broke Nadal in a marathon third game in the fourth set, taking it with a vicious forehand winner on the Spaniard’s serve. At 3-1 up, Cerundolo almost secured a double break but Nadal was able to claw back all four break points.
At 4-3 up, things got worse for Cerundolo as he made three consecutive unforced errors which Nadal pounced on to get back on serve.
Nadal used all his experience to wrap the contest up on Cerundolo’s serve at 4-5, converting his one and only match point as the Argentine hit his backhand wide.
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