Wimbledon: Rafael Nadal ruthless in return

Two-time champion Rafael Nadal cruised through his opening match at the 2017 Wimbledon Championships on Monday, blowing out Australian John Millman 6-1, 6-3, 6-2. Nadal was contesting his first match since winning his 10th French Open title almost a month ago, and his first match on grass in nearly two years, having missed the entire grass court season last year.

But Nadal, the fourth seed at this year’s championships, looked as good as ever right from the first ball, as the Spaniard dominated the rallies and was at his spectacular, sometimes impossible shot-making best, ripping winners from all parts of the court on his way to an easy victory.

Rafa races out of the gate

Despite having not played a competitive match in nearly a month, Nadal showed no signs of rust right from the very start, forcing Millman into three straight errors in the opening game to bring up triple break point. The Aussie saved the first with an ace before handing his opponent the opening break by netting a routine forehand. It appeared that the Spaniard was going to run away with the set early as he found himself at triple break point again in the third game after an easy hold, but Millman did not roll over and die for the world number two, saving all three break points as well as a fourth at 40-AD before holding for 1-2.

Rafael Nadal rips a forehand during his opening-round win. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Rafael Nadal rips a forehand during his opening-round win. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Nadal was unphased by the missed opportunity and, after another routine hold, went back to work on his opponent’s serve. At 3-1, 30-30, the Spaniard hit a high lob that Millman struggled to reach, smashing it well wide to bring up break point. This time, Nadal only needed one, slicing a drop shot that the Aussie could only watch as the fourth seed took a double break lead. Once again, Millman did not go away quietly, taking a 0-30 lead on Nadal’s serve in the following game and reaching break point at 40-AD, but the two-time Wimbledon champion saved it with an ace and went on to hold. The failure to break proved costly, as the Spaniard continued his onslaught as Millman served to stay in the set. At 30-40, break/set point, Nadal perfectly ripped an inside-out forehand back behind Millman to wrap up the set after only 33 minutes.

Millman can’t keep up

Millman set a far better tone to start the second set, not only holding without facing a break point for the first time in the match, but holding to love in his first service game of the second set. Unfortunately for the Aussie, his opponent was completely dialled in. In the fourth game, Millman found himself down 30-40 and stuck in a titanic rally with the Spaniard. After 34 massive baseline blows were exchanged, Nadal took what looked like a near-perfect tight crosscourt backhand from Millman and ripped a forehand winner up the line to seal the break for a 3-1 lead.

John Millman chases down a shot during his first round loss. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images
John Millman chases down a shot during his first round loss. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

After Nadal had been untouchable for most of the match, the Spaniard finally blinked after securing the break. In the very next game, the fourth seed found himself down break point at 40-AD and pushed his backhand wide to give the break right back to Millman. The comeback did not last long, as a third successive break of serve followed, with Millman handing the lead back to Nadal when he drove a backhand long on break point. The lone break would be enough for the fourth seed, as he would hang on to his service without too much trouble for the remainder of the set, taking it 6-3.

Nadal powers through

Nadal made a statement at the start of the third set, stringing together a series of highlight-reel winners, including one returning a smash and a perfect last-second drop shot, to break Millman in the opening game. The margins were razor thin as the set progressed and a desperate Millman looked to do anything to get back in the set. Unfortunately, a series of over-aggressive misses from the Aussie gave Nadal another break for a 3-0 lead.

Nadal (right) and Millman shake hands after the Spaniard's victory. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Nadal (right) and Millman shake hands after the Spaniard's victory. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

After Nadal held to stretch the lead to 4-0, Millman finally managed to grit out a game to get on the board. Seemingly on his last legs, the Aussie would mount one last charge on the Spaniard’s serve and brought up a break point in the following game. Nadal, thinking Millman’s passing shot was going long, allowed the ball to pass him only for it to drop in to hand his opponent one of the breaks back. That would prove to be the Aussie’s last stand, however, as the two-time champion quickly broke back in the following game. Nadal would easily serve out the match to love in the following game.

By the numbers

Nadal pummeled Millman in all facets of the match, most notably tripling his opponents in winners with 33 to the Aussie’s 11. Nadal was also at his great-returning best as he won more than 50 percent of all return points, including 51 percent of return points on his opponent’s first serve. Nadal himself won 77 percent of his first serve points and 52 percent of his second serves. An impressive, and somewhat surprising, statistic for Nadal was his 19 of 25 net points won. The Spaniard won more points at the net than total net points played by Millman.

Nadal will play recent Eastbourne semifinalist Donald Young in the second round. 

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