By Martyn Herman
WORLD number one Rafael Nadal pulled back from the abyss to reach the Wimbledon third round on Thursday just when it looked as though bogeyman Lukas Rosol had returned to haunt him.
Two years after being knocked out at the same stage by the hard-hitting Czech in a late night Centre Court horror show, the Spaniard found himself a point away from falling two sets behind before fighting back to win 4-6 7-6(6) 6-4 6-4.
If twice former champion Nadal is being made to work overtime so far, women’s favourite Serena Williams, bidding for a sixth singles title at the All England club, has marched through untroubled so far.
The American beat South African Chanelle Scheepers 6-1 6-1 and has dropped a mere five games so far.
Australia wildcard Nick Kyrgios produced the comeback of the day to knock out French 13th seed Richard Gasquet.
One of several young guns making an impact at the championships, the 19-year-old battled back from a two-set deficit and saved nine match points in a cliffhanger decider before sealing a 3-6 6-7(4) 6-4 7-5 10-8 victory.
As well as reaching the third round of a slam for the first time, Kyrgios also earned the distinction of saving the most number of match points by a man at Wimbledon.
The 28-year-old Nadal is never more vulnerable than in the early rounds at Wimbledon as he makes the tricky transition from his beloved bouncy clay courts to the low, skidding ball which is the norm on fresh green grass.
After battling past feisty Slovakian Martin Klizan in the opening round, Nadal found himself in an even deeper hole against a man who sent his world spinning off its axis in 2012.
Rosol’s dramatic five-set victory under the Centre Court roof two years ago was the last match Nadal played for seven months as the pain in his battle-scarred knees finally got the better of him.
This time, with second seed Nadal clearly in much better physical condition, the pattern was ominously familiar as 52nd ranked Rosol came out all guns blazing.
Thundering down aces and making mincemeat of Nadal’s serves at times with some savage returns, Rosol showed the 14-time grand slam champion little respect, rattling through some games in the blink of an eye.
Rosol broke serve in the ninth game when Nadal misfired a forehand and then closed out the set with a quickfire love game.
The Czech was seeing the ball like a football in the second set too, continually pinning Nadal back, and when he established a break to lead 4-2 he appeared to have the Spaniard at his mercy.
His level dipped slightly, however, and Nadal broke back to level at 4-4. Rosol was not out of bullets, however, and he continued to blaze away in the tiebreak, moving a mini-break ahead and then having a set point at 6-5 on the Nadal serve which the Spaniard saved with a whipped forehand winner.
A Rosol double-fault handed Nadal the set and his level then went up a couple of notches as he powered on to victory.
“The difference maybe is one point,” Nadal, who suffered a first-round loss here last year to Steve Darcis, told reporters.
“Maybe if I lost that set point in the second set, if that forehand down the line went out, maybe I will be sitting here with a loss.”
Ominously for the rest of the players in the bottom half of the draw, which includes seven-time champion Roger Federer who was set to face Gilles Muller late on Thursday, Nadal tends to get stronger and stronger once he finds his feet on grass.
In the last decade, every time he has survived past the second round he has gone on to reach the final, winning the title in 2008 and 2010 and losing in 2006, 2007 and 2011.
Kyrgios, who could play Nadal in the last 16, was not the only player to survive a five-setter on Thursday.
His third round opponent, young Czech Jiri Vesely, beat French 24th seed Gael Monfils 7-6(3) 6-3 6-7(1) 6-7(3) 6-4 while Monfils’ compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga edged past American Sam Querrey, winning a deciding set hung over from Wednesday 14-12.