• Wimbledon

Federer and Nadal re-establish the old world order

Mark Hodgkinson
June 26, 2014
Roger Federer had few scares under the Centre Court roof against Gilles Muller © Getty Images

For now, there's no anarchy at the garden party, no Armageddon soundtracked by a brass band and the chatter from the Hill. The grass-court world order is as it's supposed to be. This summer, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal have survived the Wimbledon cull to make it through to the tournament's middle weekend.

Once, that would hardly have counted as a news story, that Nadal and Federer had contained the anarchists and had advanced to the third round at the All England Club. Between them, they've won 31 grand slam titles, nine of which have come here on Wimbledon's Centre Court.

They're universally regarded as being two of the greatest tennis players in history (some would put Federer as the true alpha, while others prefer Nadal). But the events of last summer, when both Nadal and Federer went out around the same time as the British wild cards - Nadal lost in the first round and Federer in the second on Wild Wednesday - have forced everyone to reassess; nothing can be guaranteed on an English grass court.

Federer's appearance on Thursday was back to how his early-round matches at Wimbledon are meant to pass off with the Swiss, his parents watching on from the Royal Box, defeating his second-round opponent, Gilles Muller of Luxembourg, without any dramas (except for a small fall). How different this straight-sets victory was to last year's second-round appearance when Sergiy Stakhovsky bamboozled Federer with his serve-and-volley game.

The only interruption to Federer's progress came because of the evening drizzle, with a pause in proceedings as the roof was closed over Centre Court; this finished in what some regard as the All England Club's version of the Eden Project. There was a serenity to watching Federer in command in the Wimbledon greenhouse; a year on from Stakhovsky, there wasn't to be another Centre Court take-down.

There are a dwindling number of grass-court specialists. Rosol is even more specialised than that; you could call him a Nadal-specialist

Of the two Hollywood names, there was greater uncertainty over whether Nadal would stay in the tournament. His opponent, Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic, was the same man who had beaten him in the second round - so at the same stage - of the 2012 Championships.

In tennis, there are a dwindling number of players who could be classified as grass-court specialists. Rosol is even more specialised than that; you could call him a Nadal-specialist, or a Centre Court-specialist, or a master of the second-round encounter. In the 24 months that have passed since Rosol's victory over Nadal, he's hardly done much in tennis. Well, he's done enough to establish himself as a top-100 player, but nothing to knock the tennis planet off its orbit.

Then put him back on Centre Court, to play Nadal for a place in the last 32 at Wimbledon, and Rosol starts disrupting, starts creating chaos and disorder. Having established a 6-5 lead in the second-set tiebreak, he was a point away from leading Nadal by two sets to love; the world No.1 staved off the danger by lashing a forehand winner.

It was unfortunate for Rosol, who had earlier been a break up in that set, that he would double-fault when Nadal had a point to level the match. "Against Rosol, two sets down, it would have been very dangerous," Nadal said. Quite clearly, this was a very different Nadal to the one who, in 2012, had been brought low by knee pain.

Nadal's efforts this month in Paris, where he won a ninth French Open title to take his overall tally to 14 majors, would have taken much out of him, but he played with plenty of energy in the second, third and fourth sets of his four-set victory.

Nothing was going to unsettle Nadal, not even Rosol seeming to deliberately knock over the Spaniard's water-bottles (that might sound like a small act, but Nadal is very particular about his drinks containers, to the point that he makes sure after every changeover that all the labels are facing in the same direction).

For the first time since 2011, Nadal has won successive matches at Wimbledon, and he will feature at the weekend, against Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan. Federer's next match will come against Spain's Marcel Granollers or Colombia's Santiago Giraldo.

Who knows, we could yet see Federer and Nadal, who are both in the bottom half, meeting in the semi-finals.

Rafael Nadal avenged his 2012 defeat by Lukas Rosol, and celebrated in style © PA Photos

Mark Hodgkinson is the author of Ivan Lendl: The Man Who Made Murray. He is writing daily for ESPN during Wimbledon

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