History didn't repeat itself Thursday at Wimbledon as No. 2-seeded Rafael Nadal defeated nemesis Lukas Rosol 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4, 6-4 in the second round at All England Club.
Nadal shockingly lost to Rosol in the second round at Wimbledon in 2012 and fell behind early once again during Thursday's encounter. Rather than crumbling under the pressure of Rosol's high-risk game, though, Rafa was able to assert himself and overcome the early deficit.
Regardless of all the success that Nadal has had over the years, the 2012 loss to Rosol loomed as one of his greatest failures. That is likely why Nadal was as exuberant as ever following the victory, according to Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times:
The biggest non-Slam winning celebration I've ever seen from Rafa. Understandable--that Rosol loss haunted him like few others. #Wimbledon— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 26, 2014
Although Nadal has two Wimbledon titles to his credit, he has struggled mightily at All England Club in recent years. According to ATPWorldTour.com, playing on grass simply doesn't come naturally to Rafa like playing on clay does.
When I am playing on clay, I don't have to think a lot about what I have to do when I am (on the court) because all the things (in my game) come together. I just think about how I want to play that match. (On grass) you need to adjust your movement. You need to adjust your rhythm. You need to find the right feeling on the speed of the ball. You need to find the confidence on some shots. The only way to make those things come automatically is by playing matches. After a few matches you are able to win and play with the right tactics.
Rafa's Wimbledon problems crept up once again in the first set as he let things slip away against Rosol. Nadal got off to a slow start in his first-round match as he dropped the opening set to Martin Klizan, and he struggled similarly during Thursday's contest.
Things were quite even through the first several games of the match and it looked as though Nadal was determined to avenge his 2012 loss to Rosol, per BBC's David Law:
Nadal looks like he has steam coming out of his nostrils. Rosol will do well to make this close. Live commentary now on @bbc5live— DavidLaw (@DavidLawTennis) June 26, 2014
Despite that, Rosol was able to answer Nadal shot for shot. Even so, it initially didn't seem as though Rosol was in the same form that carried him to a victory over Rafa two years earlier, according to Rothenberg:
Rosol nowhere near 2012 blasting early, but holds for 2-2. If he doesn't find those lightning strikes again, Rafa should be fine. #Wimbledon— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 26, 2014
After holding serve four times apiece to start the match, Nadal and Rosol created some drama. A double fault from Nadal gave Rosol a pair of break points, and while Rafa was able to stave them off, he eventually succumbed to the aggressive play of Rosol and surrendered a break, per Vikki Orvice of The Sun:
Nadal broken by Rosol. First break of match and crucially puts the Czech at 5-4 up. #Wimbledon2014— Vikki Orvice (@vikkiorvice) June 26, 2014
Many players would have squandered that break and given it right back to a player of Nadal's caliber, but Rosol clearly has a great deal of confidence against Rafa. That was apparent when he served out the set without any issue whatsoever, according to Douglas Robson of USA Today:
Rosol serves out 1st set at love against Nadal 6-4, shows few signs of nerves or respect. #wimbledon2014— Douglas Robson (@dougrobson) June 26, 2014
Although Nadal didn't make many mistakes in the first set, Rosol's aggressiveness was ultimately the difference. The impressive Czech cracked 13 winners and refused to allow Nadal to dictate the flow of the match.
Per Neil Harman of The Times, Rosol's play in the first set was quite reminiscent of what he was able to do against Nadal in 2012:
Rosol serves out first set to love. His attitude has not changed from 2012. See the ball = biff it. Takes set 6-4 in 33 minutes.— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) June 26, 2014
Rosol displayed all the tools of a top player in the first set, but he has never been able to put everything together and become a consistent contender at Grand Slams. In fact, Rosol has been quite ordinary in the big tournaments since Wimbledon 2012, but that didn't stop him from making life miserable for Nadal once again, according to Alex Kay of the Daily Mail:
Since beating Nadal at Wimbledon two years ago, Lukas Rosol has not been past the second round of any Grand Slam. This is bizarre.— ALEX KAY (@Alex_Kay_DM) June 26, 2014
After seemingly putting Nadal on his heels and generating some doubt in the first set, Rosol continued to play with reckless abandon in the second. Many players might have taken it easy and attempted to protect the lead against someone like Nadal, but Rosol didn't subscribe to that theory.
Rosol was so fearless, in fact, that he didn't even bother to take anything off his second serves for the sake of accuracy, per Nick Nemeroff of Tennis View Magazine:
Rosol just attempted a 126mph second serve. Says a lot about how is he feeling at the moment.— Nick Nemeroff (@NNemeroff) June 26, 2014
That strategy continued to work through the early part of the second set as Rosol earned another break to go up 3-2 and then consolidated it with a hold. According to Craig O'Shannessy of The New York Times, Nadal simply didn't appear to have any answers:
As Rafa has done so many times over the course of his storied career, though, he dug deep and fought his way back into the set. Following a hold of serve, Nadal scored his first break of the match to knot the set at 4-4 and loosen Rosol's grip on the match, per Harman:
There's the (slightly) dodgy Rosol service game. Nadal, getting a read on the baseline, breaks for the first time. 4-4.— Neil Harman (@NeilHarmanTimes) June 26, 2014
Nadal then proceeded to seize a 5-4 lead, but Rosol didn't blink. He twice held serve with Nadal on the precipice of taking the set and managed to force a crucial tiebreak.
Rosol's free-wheeling ways served him well in the tiebreak as he had a chance to really push Nadal's back against the wall with a set point. Nadal was able to save it, though, and then went on to win the tiebreak and level the match when Rosol double faulted while facing set point.
If it wasn't already clear how big that set was for Nadal's confidence, the reaction of his uncle and coach highlighted its importance, according to Tom Perrotta of the Wall Street Journal:
Don't think I've ever seen Toni Nadal so pumped for an early round Slam match. Fist pumping after Rosol double faults away the second set.— Tom Perrotta (@TomPerrotta) June 26, 2014
Rosol didn't wilt by any means after squandering set point and dropping the set to Nadal, but there is no question that the momentum was firmly on Rafa's side. All it took was one break of Rosol's serve to put Nadal in the driver's seat.
The remainder of the set was straightforward as both men held serve and maintained the status quo. When Nadal had a chance to serve out the set he didn't let it pass him by as he easily closed it out and pulled to within one set of winning the match.
According to Tennis.com, all signs pointed toward Nadal having averted disaster after a scare from Rosol in the first couple sets:
Nadal pulls a Rosol, ends a set with an ace. Rafa up two sets to one and appears to have weathered the worst. #Wimbledon— TENNIS.com (@Tennis) June 26, 2014
After Rosol's aggressiveness put Nadal on his heels early in the match, Rafa managed to flip the script in the third set, per Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated:
Nadal wins third set , 16 winners to Rosol's 2— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) June 26, 2014
Much like the third set, the fourth set was highlighted by Nadal's dominance on serve as well as a timely break of Rosol's. Rafa put himself in position to serve out the match, which should have been easy considering how much Nadal was rolling in that regard, but ESPN.com's Howard Bryant correctly pointed out that putting away the match is always a challenge:
Nadal serving for match 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 5-4...has yielded one point on serve in last four service games, but last one to get is the hardest..— Howard Bryant (@hbryant42) June 26, 2014
The final game of the match was back and forth in nature as Rosol fought off a number of match points, but Nadal's quality was ultimately too much as he finally put away his pesky opponent.
Not only is the victory over Rosol huge for Nadal in terms of clearing a mental hurdle, but it also puts him through to the third round in what looks like a very favorable draw. Although he may have to deal with Roger Federer in the semifinals if both players make it that far, there aren't many big-time challengers standing in Rafa's way before that.
How will Nadal ultimately fare at Wimbledon 2014?
A third-round encounter with Mikhail Kukushkin looms, which has to make Nadal feel fairly comfortable. The Spaniard crushed Kukushkin in their two previous meetings and shouldn't have much of an issue as long as he remains in his current form.
Guys like Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori lurk a couple rounds down the road, so Nadal can't take his foot off the gas, but he has definitely reestablished himself as a contender at Wimbledon.
Rafa has had some hiccups over the course of the first two rounds and hasn't played his best by any means, however, the fact that he has been tested should prepare him for tougher opponents as the tournament wears on.
Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray may be viewed by most as the top players to beat in this tournament, but the French Open champion is making a case for himself as well.
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