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Nadal finds happiness in a convincing victory

 

By John Skilbeck

Rafael Nadal felt "happy about almost everything" as he powered through to the second week at Wimbledon with a Centre Court beasting of one of the brightest young players in the game.

Twenty-one-year-old Russian Karen Khachanov felt the full force of Nadal for almost an hour before joining the battle rather too late, as Spain's two-time champion sealed a 6-1 6-4 7-6 (7/3) victory.

Watched by his compatriot and friend, golf's Masters champion Sergio Garcia who arrived in his green jacket, Nadal showed why he has won 15 tennis majors in his time and might add another next week.

Real Madrid fan Nadal was also playing to an audience that included former Bernabeu star David Beckham, and he put on a show for the first set and a half that had many observers giddy about his level of performance.

The 31-year-old sprung from the traps like the prize greyhounds that used to race in this south west London district, before the legs began to tire and inevitably some of the early fizz went flat.

Some might have considered Andy Murray's clash with Fabio Fognini the main event on Wimbledon's biggest stage on Friday. But Nadal belongs on the undercard to nobody and he showed why in a 22-minute first set.

If the Augusta National greens deteriorated to the degree that Wimbledon's baselines have burned away under the sun, the greenkeeper would surely be out on his ear, but Nadal seemed untroubled by their baked state.

Nobody slips and slides with more control than the 10-time French Open champion, and nobody cracks a forehand with quite the ferocity that Nadal loads behind the ball.

One such shot, blistering and across court, came in the fourth game and must have terrified Khachanov.

This was the young Russian's first experience of playing Nadal, and he was given a going-over in the early stages.

It was to his credit that Khachanov fought back strongly, sparked by a sequence of four straight aces to win the fifth game of the second set.

Nadal even had to save a set point when trailing 6-5 in the third, but he did so with a delicious drop-shot winner that showed his game was still there in case of such emergencies. Two thrilling passing shots fizzed past Khachanov in the tie-break, and the match was done when the youngster obligingly hooked a service return long.

Nadal was runner-up at the Australian Open in January, champion at Roland Garros in June, and marches on in London.

"For a while I played fantastically," Nadal said. "The first set and a half was a great, great level then it was a little bit tougher."

It was "impossible to win easy", Nadal said, before stressing his game was just where he wants it, adding: "I'm happy about almost everything."

Nadal even delighted a section of his support with a change of shirt at the end of the match, motioning in semi-embarrassment to flick away the whooping and whistling before making his exit. He knows his audience, and they should be seeing plenty more of him this fortnight.

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