London, Jun 28 (EFE).- Spanish great Rafael Nadal struggled to get comfortable again on the Wimbledon grass following a three-year absence, but he raised his level late in the match to defeat Argentina’s Francisco Cerundolo 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 on Tuesday to advance to the second round.
Nadal jumped out to an early lead at 3-1 in the first set before the 41st-ranked Cerundolo got back on serve and then earned three break points with the world No. 4 serving at 4-4.
But the two-time champion at the All England Club and winner of a record 22 Grand Slam men’s singles titles once against showed his nerves of steel under pressure, rallying to win that game and then clinch the first set with a break in the following game.
Nadal then seemed to have the match totally under control when he won the second set comfortably and then broke for a 2-1 lead in the third set.
The Argentine started dictating more of the rallies at that juncture, however, to get back on serve and then take a 5-3 lead when the Spaniard dumped a backhand in the net.
After clinching the third set, Cerundolo got the better of his illustrious opponent in a 16-point game that ended with the Argentine breaking serve once again with a forehand winner to take a 2-1 lead in the fourth set and move closer to forcing a decider.
But Nadal rallied from a 4-2 deficit to win the last four games of the match, both stepping up his own aggressiveness down the stretch and benefiting from numerous unforced errors by his big-hitting opponent.
“It’s not a surface that we play very often, and especially in my case, for different reasons, as I said the past three years I didn’t put any foot on a grass court, so it always takes a while,” Nadal said afterward. “It was my first match, and as I know every day is a test and today was one of these important tests.”
Nadal is seeded second at Wimbledon because of the absence of Russian world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev, who was barred from playing as punishment for his country’s invasion of Ukraine, and German world No. 2 Alexander Zverev (ankle injury).
Next up for the Spaniard in the second round will be Lithuania’s Ricardas Berankis, who upset big-serving American Sam Querrey 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 on Tuesday.
In other Wimbledon men’s first-round matches Tuesday involving top players, Greek world No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas got a stern test from Swiss qualifier Alexander Ritschard but pulled out a 7-6 (7-1), 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 victory in three and a half hours. Canadian world No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime, however, was bounced out of the tournament by American serve-and-volleyer Maxime Cressy 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 7-6 (11-9), 7-6 (7-5).
The fourth-seeded Tsitsipas lost in straight sets in last year’s Wimbledon, but he comes into this year’s event full of confidence after winning his maiden grass-court title at the Mallorca Championships in Spain.
“Absolutely (I feel confident),” Tsitsipas said after his win. “Mallorca was a great tournament. The conditions there are a little bit different, much more hot and humid there. Playing on these courts, it’s like watery smooth. It doesn’t get any better.”
The Greek star will square off next against Australia’s Jordan Thompson, who raced past Spain’s Roberto Carballes Baena 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 on Tuesday.