Nadal survives after Rosol threatens repeat
For close to an hour Rafael Nadal was in danger of suffering Wimbledon deja vu at the hands of Lukas Rosol on Centre Court, but the world No.1's class eventually told as he came from a set and break down to keep his hopes of a 15th grand slam title alive.
Nadal eventually triumphed 4-6 7-6(6) 6-4 6-4 in two hours and 44 minutes, but the result had looked far from certain a set and a half in.
The Czech famously dumped Nadal out in the second round two years ago, the then-world No.100 winning 6-7(9) 6-4 6-4 2-6 6-4 in an epic encounter which finished just after 10pm under the Centre Court roof. It was one of the biggest shocks in Wimbledon history and no doubt the best Rosol had ever played in his career.
"People say that Rafa can't play well here, but maybe that's because those people have a small memory," uncle and coach Toni Nadal had bristled before the match. But for 50 minutes on Centre Court, Nadal's 2012 nemesis, now world No.52, was threatening a repeat.
However Nadal finally earned his first break of the match in the eighth game of the second set as Rosol's first serve went walkabout. The world No.1 held his nerve to take the second set on a tie-breaker and level the match, accompanied by a huge cry of "Vamos!" as the tide had most surely turned.
Nadal closed out the third after making an early break and Rosol's tank appeared to be running on empty. The Spaniard took the first of three break points at the start of the fourth before saving one at 5-4 to see out the victory on his third match point.
The cry of relief from Nadal said it all as he backed up uncle Toni's words, for now at least. Though Nadal insisted, however, that revenge for 2012 hadn't been on his mind.
"I never play for revenge," Nadal said. "Every match is a different match. Today was another match, I had to win - my goal is not Rosol, it's to play as well as I can in the tournament. It doesn't matter if it's Rosol or another player who has beaten me in the past.
"I had to wait for my moment, try to find my moment. I made a few mistakes in the first set but for the rest I feel I was playing good.
"The break back was very important and saving a set point in the tiebreak was very important. playing against a player like Rosol two sets down, big server, is always going to be tough.
"I'm a bit tired, a lot of tension, but I had a good answer after the first set."
Nadal came into Wimbledon after winning his ninth French Open title but his form on grass was in question. In addition to that loss to Rosol two years ago, he was upset in the first round last year by Steve Darcis and lost to Dustin Brown in a grass-court warm-up two weeks ago in Halle, Germany.
"This is a very important victory for me," Nadal said. "To be in the third round here again after two, three years is very positive news, and I finished the match playing at a very high level."
Rosol held his own in the opening games, imposing himself on Nadal and refusing to allow his opponent to relax and find his rhythm.
The set stayed on serve for eight games, before Rosol finally made the breakthrough. Rosol sent a forehand winner past Nadal to bring up 0-30 at 4-4 but unsuccessfully challenged the next point when he thought Nadal had gone long.
However a double fault from Nadal gave Rosol two break points. Nadal saved both but then dumped two forehands into the net as Rosol went 5-4 ahead.
The Czech held to love to take the first set in 33 minutes, and broke to love for 3-2 in the second set as he ripped forehand and backhand winners past a flat-footed Nadal at will.
Nadal took two points on Rosol's next service to give himself a sniff but the Czech shut him out and compounded his advantage.
Two aces from Nadal helped him hold for 3-4 and he then took the second of three break points to strike back as Rosol's first serve abandoned him, celebrating with a fist-pump as the crowd began to respond.
The set stayed on serve and headed to a tie-breaker, with Nadal saving a set point before Rosol gave him a freebie with a double fault on a set point of his own.
Nadal continued to march on, breaking Rosol in the third game of the third set and seeing it through without any drama, sealed with a love service game.
The break in the fourth was instant and Nadal didn't look back. Rosol battled to the end as he tried to stay in the match, racing through a love service game to ensure Nadal would have to serve out the victory.
Rosol brought up a break point as he threatened to spring one last shock, but Nadal wasn't to be denied, finally seeing off his opponent with his fourth match point.
It may not have been revenge in Nadal's eyes, but it certainly looked as if he had exercised the demons of that dark day in 2012.