Wimbledon 2018: Day of No1s Part 2 – Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep open campaigns for ‘Channel Double’
Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep have both advances to the second round of Wimbledon
A quick look at their resumes over the last year or so explains just why Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep are the world No1s.
Yes, Roger Federer pipped Nadal to the No1 seeding at the All England Club this year courtesy of the grass ‘formula’: After all, he is defending champion, and arrived in London with a title and runner-up trophy on the green stuff.
But the two-time former Wimbledon champion—and three-times runner-up—swept all before him on clay to win Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome and the French Open. And of course, there was the small matter of reaching the quarters at the Australian Open before he was forced to retire with a hip injury and play no part in the big North American hard-court swing.
Yes, Garbine Muguruza is the defending champion at Wimbledon this year, but Halep has also put together a stunning first six months to 2018 to hold onto the No1 ranking—and seeding—against many challengers.
She started with a title, in Shenzhen, and arrived here with a title, her first Major at Roland Garros. In between, she made the finals at the Australian Open and Rome, the semis at Indian Wells and Doha, the quarters at Stuttgart and Madrid.
Like her male counterpart at the French Open, Halep opted to bypass the grass tournaments to focus on her preparation at the All England Club. And she too had missed some earlier hard-court events with niggling injuries.
On paper, too, both could lose the No1 ranking if they lost early here and their rivals went on to victory. But as both embarked on their Wimbledon campaigns, the chances of falling at the first hurdle certainly looked very remote.
For Nadal, though, his run last year at Wimbledon stood out as something of an aberration when taken alongside his victories at Roland Garros and the US Open. He lost in the fourth-round. But since his final run in 2011, his results here had departed from the outstanding run he made between 2006 and that summer.
As the tournament notes pointed out, he took unexpected losses to players outside the top 100 four times after 2011, the likes of Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis and Dustin Brown, and fell once in the first round and twice in the second.
That scenario looked entirely unlikely this time around: He looked fit, strong and eager as he went about his thumping training and practice sessions at the All England Club with a small detour for an exhibition match at Hurlingham.
He played Dudi Sela, ranked 127, who had just five match-wins to his name in 2018—and the Spaniard had not lost a set in their two previous matches. And Nadal did not look too troubled in this straight sets win, 6-3, 6-3, 6-2. It was hard to believe, indeed, that this was his first match in a month, and his first on grass in a year.
He broke in the first set courtesy of a double fault from Sela, 5-3, and served it out in under half an hour. The run of games from Nadal continued with a break at that start of second set. Sela did make some inroads with variety and guile: He is a small man without the formidable weapons that Nadal wields, but his use of volleys, drops and changes in tempo broke the Spanish rhythm. However, Sela was inconsistent, and the weight of Nadal’s ground strokes and his ever-improving serve took their toll.
The world No1 also threw more attacking net plays into the mix—and he is one of the most proficient players overhead—and won 24 points at the front of the court. And as he said before the tournament began, he is in to win it:
“My expectations are always high. I am not here to play the tournament; I am here to try to have good results.”
However, the perfectionist was on full display in front of the press afterwards:
“Good start, of course. Good result. Of course I did things very well, and other things that I have room to improve. But you are not at all times happy, of course? It’s a good start for me, that’s it.”
Nadal will next play the 77-ranked Mikhail Kukushkin, who beat Vasek Pospisil 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, 6-3. The Spaniard has beaten Kukushkin in all three previous meetings, including a four-setter in their last, at Wimbledon—but that was four years ago.
Nadal’s path also got a little easier after the loss of his first scheduled seed, Marco Cecchinato to Alex de Minaur. Diego Schwartzman and Fabio Fognini came through as possible opponents in the fourth round, but elsewhere in this quarter, No10 David Goffin lost to Matthew Ebden, though Juan Martin del Potro won with relative ease.
The highest seed in the other lower quarter, No4 Alexander Zverev, had no problems against James Duckworth. However, No7 seed Dominic Thiem was forced to retire at two sets and 0-2 down against Marcos Baghdatis, having sustained a heavy fall and a back injury.
However No12 seed and former champion Novak Djokovic never looked in trouble on Court 1: He dropped only six games in beating Tennys Sandgren in an hour and a half.
Halep’s first opponent was Kurumi Nara, ranked 100 and yet to win a match this season—compared with Halep’s 35-6 run.
True to form, Halep took only 78 minutes to top the Japanese woman, 6-2, 6-4. They exchanged breaks early in the first set, but she broke again to take control with four straight games. She went on to break at the start of the second, and fended off both break-back points to hold her lead for the match.
Halep next plays Saisai Zheng, who beat fellow Chinese Qiang Wang in an altogether longer battle of over two hours and three sets. However, one of the favourites for the title, the No8 seed and two-time former champion, Petra Kvitova, cut a weary figure through a demanding three-setter, and Aliaksandra Sasnovich advanced, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0, after two and a quarter hours.
Another seed to go out of Halep’s section was No30 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. This was always a stacked quarter for the French Open champion and No1, but the loss of Kvitova opens the door just a fraction wider for Halep to target that rare Channel Double.