Two years ago, the world wondered if Rafael Nadal would return to the sport he loved after losing the second round of Wimbledon in five sets to Czech, Lukas Rosol (7-6(9), 4-6, 4-6, 6-2, 4-6). Not only did the upset stun the Spaniard, but it also began a seven month layoff from the game with injuries and sickness. Rumors about Nadal’s future and the uncertainty of his career loomed as he missed the US Open that year, and even had to withdraw from the London Olympics, despite being the defending Gold medalist from Beijing 2008. A lot was made of his defeat that day, and when Nadal fell again at Wimbledon the following year, his prowess on grass was in question. Meeting Rosol in the second round of Wimbledon again today, Nadal proved the better player, and got his vengeance in four challenging sets.
Going into Wimbledon 2012, Nadal had been in the final in his five previous appearances, including two victories. His transition from clay to grass was reminiscent of the legendary Bjorn Borg, and his Roland Garros-Wimbledon double victories in 2008 and 2010 made his early exit to Rosol that much more stunning. The 6’5″ Rosol seemed to be starting things off in a similar fashion as two years ago when he broke Nadal in the ninth game to go up 5-4. Rosol then served out the first set 6-4.
Rosol plays hard and flat, and on a fast surface like Wimbledon, speed can kill. The second set seemed to be going downhill fast for Nadal as Rosol broke to love in the seventh game. However, the number one player in the world had other plans, and broke right back to put the set back on level terms. Nadal’s serve was a particular liability in the match, as he continued to hit right into Rosol’s strike zone. Nadal seemed overwhelmed at times by the pace on the grass, but never gave up, duking it out to a second set tiebreaker.
At 6-5 Rosol had a set point, and the pressure was all on Nadal’s serve. Reminding everyone why he owns 14 grand slam titles, Nadal erased the set point with a crushing forehand winner up the line. Now 6-7, Nadal had a set point, but with the pressure all on Rosol, he double faulted the set to the second seed. His lifetime coach and uncle, Toni, screamed and celebrated, fired up in the stands with the rest of the crowd.
Nadal began to find his grass-court form in the third set, and started strong, breaking Rosol in the third game of the set. Serving for the third set, Nadal held to love to take it 6-4, getting that much closer to getting his vengeance. In the fourth set, Nadal started nailing the return of serve, hitting his passing shots and creating angles with his spin. He again broke at love, this time in the opening game of the fourth set, and looked better than he has on the surface in a long time.
Visibly more relaxed and swinging more freely, Nadal hit a forehand around the net post, and started to look like his old self on grass. Nadal tightened his serve and began chasing the lines, which took away the reaction time from his taller opponent. Shaken but not out, Rosol continued to fight, but the left hander was continuing to find his groove in the match. Serving at 5-4 in the set, Nadal closed out the match in two hours and forty-six minutes, and got his vengeance from defeat two years ago. The match was good practice for the Spaniard, and following the victory his confidence will be much higher going into the third round.
Commentary by John Benjamin Wilson