Nadal makes it look easy at Wim­ble­don

All the favourites are win­ning, but Spa­niard look­ing unbeatable

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - HOWARD FENDRICH

LON­DON — To ap­pre­ci­ate fully just how out­stand­ing Rafael Nadal is at the mo­ment — 28 con­sec­u­tive com­pleted sets won in Grand Slam play — con­sider what Andy Mur­ray went through at Wim­ble­don on Fri­day.

Mur­ray’s ti­tle de­fence ap­peared to be on shaky ground in the third round, par­tic­u­larly through a stress­ful stretch at Cen­tre Court against Fabio Fognini, the 28thseeded Ital­ian who won their most re­cent en­counter and had five set points to force this one to a fifth.

No telling whether the No. 1ranked Mur­ray, or his vo­cal back­ers, could have han­dled that test. Didn’t need to find out, be­cause Mur­ray was steady enough to grab the last five games and beat Fognini 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5 as the sun­light faded.

“The end of the match was tense,” Mur­ray said, in his typ­i­cally un­der­stated way. “It was a very up-and­down match. I didn’t feel like it was the best ten­nis at times.”

The set he did drop was the first ceded so far this week by the Big 4: Roger Fed­erer, No­vak Djokovic, Nadal and Mur­ray. That all-con­quer­ing quar­tet com­bined to win the past 14 Wim­ble­don championships — half by Fed­erer, three by Djokovic, two apiece by Mur­ray and Nadal. Ah, yes, Nadal. He is com­ing off a record 10th French Open ti­tle, claim­ing all 19 full sets he con­tested in Paris with as over­pow­er­ing a per­for­mance as can be (one op­po­nent quit be­cause of in­jury in the mid­dle of the sec­ond set). Tack on the nine col­lected at the All Eng­land Club, in­clud­ing a 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (3) vic­tory over 30thseeded Karen Khachanov on Fri­day, and Nadal’s set streak in ma­jors equals the third-long­est of the Open era.

“I mean, if you don’t hit hard and fast, he’s go­ing to de­stroy you,” the 21-year-old Khachanov said. “If he has time, he’s dom­i­nat­ing with his fore­hand. And he can play all the an­gles.”

With his friend Ser­gio Garcia seated in the Royal Box, wear­ing the green jacket earned as Mas­ters cham­pion, Nadal put on quite a show. He whipped that big fore­hand of his; man­aged to dull serves that topped 130 m.p.h. (210 k/hr.) enough to earn 15 break points, con­vert­ing four; and played skil­fully at the net, win­ning the point on 17 of 21 ap­proaches, 4 for 4 when he de­cided to serve-and-vol­ley.

The clos­est Nadal has come to con­ced­ing a set over his past 10 matches came in the third. Fac­ing a set point while down 6-5 and serv­ing at 30-40, Nadal pro­duced a bril­liant power-and-touch com­bi­na­tion, hit­ting a 122 m.p.h. (197 k/hr.) serve fol­lowed by a well-dis­guised drop shot win­ner.

In Mon­day’s fourth round, Nadal faces No. 16 Gilles Muller, who beat Al­jaz Be­dene 7-6 (4), 7-5, 6-4, while Mur­ray meets un­seeded Benoit Paire, a 6-2, 7-6 (3), 6-3 win­ner against Jerzy Janow­icz. Other matchups: 2014 U.S. Open cham­pion Marin Cilic against No. 18 Roberto Bautista Agut, and un­seeded Kevin An­der­son vs. No. 12 Jo-Wil­fried Tsonga or No. 24 Sam Quer­rey, whose match was sus­pended Fri­day night in the fifth set be­cause of dark­ness.

Women’s fourth-rounders: Venus Wil­liams vs. No. 27 Ana Kon­juh, No. 2 Si­mona Halep vs. twotime Aus­tralian Open cham­pion Vic­to­ria Azarenka; French Open cham­pion Je­lena Ostapenko vs. No. 4 Elina Svi­tolina; No. 6 Jo­hanna Konta vs. No. 21 Caro­line Garcia.

Against the some­times-volatile Fognini, who beat him on clay at Rome in May, Mur­ray fell be­hind 5-2 in the fourth set as dusk ap­proached. Mur­ray fig­ured that if the match went to a fifth, play would be in­ter­rupted so the re­tractable roof could be closed and the tour­na­ment’s only ar­ti­fi­cial lights switched on.

“You’re think­ing a lit­tle bit about that, as well — a change of con­di­tions and a 20-minute break to think about things be­fore play­ing a fifth set,” said Mur­ray, whose 2013 ti­tle was the first at Wim­ble­don for a Bri­tish man in 77 years. “So, ob­vi­ously, pleased to get off in four.”

He barely did that against Fognini, who mixed in ef­fec­tive drop shots and lobs with pounded ground­strokes.

“I felt su­pe­rior,” Fognini said. “He didn’t have many op­tions. I had more.”

Fognini, who drew a warn­ing for throw­ing his racket ear­lier in the match, was docked a point for stick­ing a fin­ger in his mouth — chair um­pire Damien Du­mu­sois termed it a “vis­i­ble ob­scen­ity” — and that gave Mur­ray a game for 2-all. Rather than dis­cour­age Fognini, or dis­tract him, it seemed to pro­vide fuel. Roughly 15 min­utes later, he’d won three games in a row, aided by Mur­ray’s dou­ble-fault on a break point, and soon held five set points.

Couldn’t con­vert any, though. And so Mur­ray will play on at the All Eng­land Club, much to the de­light of the lo­cals.

ALAS­TAIR GRANT, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rafael Nadal re­turns to Karen Khachanov at Wim­ble­don on Fri­day.

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