Rafael Nadal revealed walking back onto Centre Court after two years away was an “amazing feeling” as he made a strong start to his bid to reclaim the Wimbledon title from Roger Federer.
Two years ago, Nadal's star arguably reached its zenith as he wrested the Challenge Cup from the formidable grasp of Federer in one of the greatest Wimbledon finals ever played.
But the Spaniard was denied the opportunity to defend his title in 2009 as tendinitis in both his knees disrupted his campaign, paving the way for Federer to again lift the title.
A fit and focused Nadal arrived in south-west London seeking redemption for the disappointment of last year, and the 24-year-old made a predictably strong start yesterday as he bulldozed his way into round two with a straight-sets victory over Kei Nishikori.
The Majorca native looked at home in the sweltering Wimbledon sunshine as he posted a 6-2 |6-4 6-4 triumph to set up a second-round encounter with Holland's Robin Haase.
Reflecting on his Centre Court return, Nadal said: “It's always special to play on this court.
“I'm very happy to come back to this tournament and play in probably the most beautiful and emblematic court in the world.
“The feeling is always amazing. And after the victory in 2008, it is a little bit more special.”
Nishikori may have been brushed aside in straight sets, but the Japanese wild-card entrant nevertheless presented a good workout for Nadal, who is coming off the back of an unbeaten clay-court season which delivered his fifth French Open title.
Nishikori's world ranking of 189th reflects not a lack of talent but more his battle against an elbow injury which forced him to miss most of last season.
He is seeking to rediscover the form which made him the ATP Newcomer of the Year award winner in 2008, and displayed flashes of his burgeoning talent against Nadal who admitted it had been far from an easy encounter.
“For me was a very good victory today. He was difficult opponent, I think. And, sure, in next round it will be very difficult against a very dangerous server like Robin Haase,” he said.
Nadal's absence from Wimbledon last year has led some to try to label this tournament as the unofficial defence of his title, but that is something Nadal is keen to downplay. “I don't feel like [it is] a defence of the title,” he said. “Roger has to defend that.”
Nadal's safe negotiation of his first-round match ensures he will be on the order of play tomorrow, when the Queen is scheduled to attend. As the world number one, Nadal seems sure to feature on Centre Court for the monarch's visit.
“For me, it is a pleasure to have the Queen here at Wimbledon. That's very good for the sport,” he said. “And for me is not an extra pressure, for sure. [It will be] just an honour to watch the Queen in the Royal Box.
“I would love to have the chance to say hello to her.”