LONDON: Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova reached the Wimbledon last 16 on Saturday, shining beneath the Centre Court roof as heavy rain swept away the action outside and led to 45 matches being cancelled. Nadal, the 2008 and 2010 champion, dropped the opening set for the third time in three matches before turning things around in a 6-7 (4/7), 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 victory over Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin, who had never won a Wimbledon match before this year.
Nadal, the 28-year-old winner of 14 Grand Slam titles, won 17 of the last 19 games against the world number 63 and goes on to face either Australia’s rising star Nick Kyrgios or Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic for a place in the quarterfinals. They had played just 15 minutes of their third-round tie out on Court 17 before rain halted all action on the uncovered courts and forced All England Club organisers to cancel 45 matches by late-afternoon. Most of the call-offs were doubles and juniors, but two men’s singles bit the soggy dust - fifth-seeded Stan Wawrinka’s clash against Denis Istomin and Feliciano Lopez’s match with John Isner.
Nadal had dropped the first set to Martin Klizan and Lukas Rosol in his first two rounds and Kukushkin, playing in his 21st tournament of the year, employed the same free-swinging tactics to bludgeon his way through the opener. But in front of a Royal Box containing such sporting glitterati as retired Indian cricket master Sachin Tendulkar, ex-England football captain David Beckham and former Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, Nadal regained his composure to race away with the win. From 1-1 in the second set to 3-0 in the fourth set, Nadal won 14 of 15 games and only faced his first break points of the tie at 2-0 in the fourth.
Kukushkin, a rare example of a player coached by his own wife, stopped the rot by getting on the board at 1-3. But it was a brief respite as Nadal stormed to victory with 41 winners and just 12 unforced errors. “At the beginning he was playing pretty long, no mistakes, very aggressive and I made few unforced errors with that second serve,” said Nadal who has reached the second week for the first time since 2011. “In the tie-break, I didn’t serve my best and that was the real thing - without serving your best in a tie-break against a player who is playing well, it is impossible.”
Second week: Nadal said he was looking forward to the second week after a first round loss in 2013 and second round exit 12 months earlier. “I’m very happy to be in the second week again after two years losing in the first and second round. I’m playing well, good spirit, good tactics on court, fighting for every ball.”
Sharapova remained on course for a rare French Open and Wimbledon double after moving into the fourth round with a 6-3, 6-0 victory over American Alison Riske. Sharapova is bidding to become the first woman since Serena Williams in 2002 to follow victory at Roland Garros with Wimbledon glory just weeks later. The 27-year-old was pushed harder than the scoreline suggested, but the 2004 Wimbledon winner eventually over-powered world number 44 Riske in 69 minutes under the roof.
The world number five is yet to drop a set in this year’s tournament and will play German ninth seed Angelique Kerber or Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens, a 2013 semifinalist, for a place in the quarterfinals. “I had a little bit of a slow start but otherwise I’m thankful to get through,” Sharapova said. “Alison is a great grasscourt player and had some of her best results on the surface, but I felt better as the match went on.”
Seven-time champion Roger Federer tackles Colombian world number 35 Santiago Giraldo, who he defeated in their one previous meeting in straight sets, at the 2011 US Open. Giraldo had never got beyond the second round at Wimbledon until this year. On Court One, five-time women’s champion Serena Williams was facing Alize Cornet of France.
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