THE anarchy is over.
Order has been restored at the All England Club. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, those two grand rivals of men's tennis, with a combined 31 grand slam titles between them, are through to the second round of Wimbledon.
That such a mundane achievement can be spoken of in such stark terms says it all about the seismic shocks experienced by both during last year's championships. By this stage 12 months back, you will recall, the Spaniard had crashed out to World No.135 Steve Darcis, while Federer was blissfully unaware of the variation on that same fate which awaited him in the second round against World No.116 Sergiy Stakhovsky.
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You only had to watch Nadal cavorting around in joy and relief after his 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Martin Klizan to appreciate how much grass courts have conspired against the Mallorcan in recent times. While the 28-year-old's hard-fought victory against the Slovak was his 700th tour level match win, it was also his first on this surface since 2012.
For all the mastery of the play which has brought Nadal back to No.1 in the world, damaging defeats to Lukas Rosol - more on him later - Darcis, and Dustin Brown at Halle last month have left him questioning his ability to adjust to the lawns of London. By next year, the grass-court season will be extended an extra week to accommodate him.
Encountering Klizan, a top-30 player as recently as March last year, always appeared to be a testing assignment at the first time of asking. And so it proved. The Slovak is a man who also possesses the distinction of taking the first set from Nadal at Roland Garros last year in an identical scoreline and when he broke the Nadal serve in the ninth game of the first set, serving it out from 0-30, it was to a soundtrack of gasps from the Centre Court crowd.
But Nadal circa 2014 has noticeably more confidence in that knee, and consequently more practice under his belt. Some swashbuckling play saw him break the Klizan serve in the sixth game of the second set, enduring a deuce as he served out to level matters at one set all.
Neither man's serve was entirely safe from then on, Klizan taking three of 13 break points, and Nadal marginally better with six of 15. Neither was there much to separate them when it came to unforced errors, but in just shy of three hours the Spaniard's first-serve percentage held up slightly better. Even still, the Nadal who won here in 2008 and 2010 might have felt slightly embarrassed by spending so much energy celebrating a first-round victory.
Both of those years saw the Spaniard complete the Roland Garros-Wimbledon double, an achievement which is widely regarded as one of the hardest in any sport. Only Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg and Roger Federer have also managed it but Nadal clearly feels it is not so bad. "I don't see a big difference between winning Roland Garros and Wimbledon because in the end even if you are in the final, you really make the same adjustment," he said. "[Novak] Djokovic was able to play the final in Roland Garros or semi-finals and then win here."
Yet for all his joy, Nadal may have left SW19 yesterday feeling this tournament is mocking him. Next up, after all, for the Spaniard is a certain Mr Rosol. "I lost because he's a good player," the Spaniard recalled of their 2012 encounter. "He's a player that can play very well on this surface. He's aggressive and it will be a tough match again. I will need to play very well."
By contrast, Federer's assignment against Paolo Lorenzi of Italy on Court No.1 always appeared likely to be a stroll in the park. The Italian has reached the age of 32 without winning a single grand slam match in 13 major appearances, his three tour level grass-court wins dwarfed by Federer's 125. While the Swiss had to save five break points in the first set, he none the less had a 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 win wrapped up in 1hr 33mins. "Many times when I played my first round on Court No.1, I went on to play really well here," said Federer. "Let's hope it's another really good year for me."
Federer was not the only high-profile Swiss player yesterday defying a habit of early defeats. Stanislas Wawrinka's 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Joao Sousa of Portugal was the first time he had made it to the second round since 2011.