x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Baby steps please Nadal

Rafael Nadal's comeback match after two months in the tennis wilderness lasted only seven games and 36 minutes in Montreal but the former world No 1 was not complaining.

Rafael Nadal, who next faces Germany's Philipp Petzschner, is hoping to improve in each of his matches in Canada as he seeks to get back to the level which saw him win three out of four grand slams.
Rafael Nadal, who next faces Germany's Philipp Petzschner, is hoping to improve in each of his matches in Canada as he seeks to get back to the level which saw him win three out of four grand slams.

Rafael Nadal's comeback match after two months in the tennis wilderness lasted only seven games and 36 minutes in Montreal but the former world No 1 was not complaining. Instead it was another leading Spaniard, David Ferrer - who once stood at fourth in the world rankings - who walked off court a forlorn and dejected figure after being forced to retire in the second round of the Masters Series event.

A painful knee injury similar to those which have plagued Nadal since his shocking French Open defeat in early June stopped Ferrer in his tracks at 4-3 in the opening set, enabling a grateful Nadal to return to the locker room earlier than anticipated and assess his own fitness levels in advance of his next assignment. "The first movement is tough and it's hard to move well and to feel confident when you are touching the ball," said Nadal. "But that's the normal thing after injury. I must be happy, because I didn't play terrible."

Nadal, 23, who next faces Germany's Philipp Petzschner, is hoping to improve in each of his matches in Canada as he seeks to get back to the level which saw him win three out of four grand slams before his Roland Garros nightmare. "Every game, every match is important to me at the moment," he said. "It's important for me to feel better each time." Nadal, who surrendered his top ranking to Roger Federer after failing to defend his Wimbledon title, is now under pressure from Britain's Andy Murray for second place - and with it the second seeding - going into the US Open.

Although Nadal would like to go far enough in Montreal to ward off the possibility of having to meet Federer in the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows, regaining match fitness is a greater immediate concern. Andy Roddick, a forerunner of Nadal as world No 1, is amazed by the way supporters on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean have warmed to him after his agonising loss to Federer in a marathon Wimbledon final.

Roddick said after accounting for Russia's Igor Andreev 6-1, 7-6 (7-3): "During my career I've been portrayed as every type of person - good, bad, ugly, rude, nice. "This is the first time it's been presented in the light of a hardworking, everyday Joe type of tennis player trying to make good." Kim Clijsters is another who has enjoyed that top of the world feeling in her hey day and seeking to return to former glories. The popular Belgian continued her smooth return to the WTA tour by following up her impressive win over Marion Bartoli with a second conquest of a top-20 player in Cincinnati.

This time Patty Schnyder, the experienced Swiss, was second best to the resurgent Clijsters who won 15 of 16 points on her own serve in the first set of a 6-2, 7-5 victory. "She's striking the ball great," said a gracious Schnyder. It was really tough to get the rallies going and to get some advantage in the points." Two Serbians who have succeeded Clijsters at the top of the rankings, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic, had contrasting fortunes.

Jankovic had to save two set points before getting the better of Russian wild card Maria Kirilenko 7-5, 6-3, but Ivanovic, who has struggled since the career highlight of last year's French Open triumph was sent packing 7-6 (8-6), 7-5 by Melinda Czink. Jankovic, grateful to come through a bizarre match of 13 service breaks, remarked: "The first match in a new tournament is always difficult for me."

Wimbledon champion Serena Williams had no such serving problems and sent down 12 aces as she outclassed Ukrainian qualifier Kateryna Bondarenko, 6-3, 6-2. @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae