Rafael Nadal endured one of those days when his opponent plays the game of their lives, but despite the best efforts of Ricardas Berankis it is the 22-time grand slam winner who is in the third round after a 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory over the world No 106 from Lithuania, on Centre Court.
Nadal, who says he is living the life of a hermit in SW19 thanks to the Covid outbreak that has claimed a third player from the men’s draw, will now face the Italian Lorenzo Sonego on Saturday.
“It wasn’t the best start, but it was probably the best finish,” Nadal said. “I have room for getting better. A couple of weeks ago I was close to retirement but now I don’t feel that way.” Speaking on Covid, he said was taking extra precautions because: “This is reality. I am staying at home I am not going out any more. At some point you have to open up but then there are more cases, this is part of the challenging world we are in.”
A rain delay meant it took Nadal the best part of four hours to see off a spirited and intrepid performance by Berankis. The narrative of the contest was defined in the first set where Nadal was plainly superior but unable to consistently find a level to exert dominance, while Berankis was able to summon enough moments of quality to keep himself in the match. It made for a compelling contest and it was not until his fifth service game that his 5ft 9in opponent showed weakness, a dreadful double fault to give a break point that Nadal gobbled up, to take the set 6-4.
Berankis immediately took a game from Nadal at the start of the second, and while Nadal quickly broke back, Berankis staved off further losses again until the fifth service game and the score at deuce when Nadal’s power overwhelmed him.
The third set saw Berankis create memories he will savour at the end of his career, the 32-year-old breaking early again and this time not only holding on but besting Nadal in some of the most fluent tennis of the match. His forehand sizzled, his serve was reliable and he won dramatic points in the fourth set too, including the last before the rain came down. But at that point Berankis was 3-0 down and there was no way the French Open champion was going to surrender an advantage like that. Nadal returned to court dusted himself off and methodically worked his way to victory.
Earlier in the day, Stefanos Tsitsipas set up a big serving third round encounter with Nick Kyrgios after he brushed off the challenge of Jordan Thompson in straight sets 6-2, 6-3, 7-5.
The mustachioed Thompson was a willing opponent whose scurrying defence meant the contest was not quite a walkover, but in the end the speed of Tsitsipas’s serve and the aggression of his returns proved too much for the Australian.
The No 4 seed has only reached the fourth round of Wimbledon once and must beat a fired up Kyrgios to do it again, but on the back of his first grass court title in Mallorca last week, the Greek is feeling good.
“I felt really good from the start,” he said. “I felt confident with something that I wasn’t that confident [about] in my first round match, which was … having that first [return] which gets my opponent out of position. That very much worked today, giving me lots of chances to constantly break or get close to a break. This is something that worked excellently.”