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Nadal happy to talk up his form

Rafael Nadal decided there was no point him underplaying what was obvious to all onlookers after he brilliantly bludgeoned his way through to the fourth round at Wimbledon.

Poor Mikhail Kukushkin had just felt the full force of the Spaniard at his best, after the Kazakh wound him up by playing the tennis of his life to take the opening set. An unforgiving Nadal ran out a 6-7 (4/7) 6-1 6-1 6-1 winner under the Centre Court roof.

“I’m playing well. I would be lying if I said anything else,” Nadal said.

He immediately qualified his comment by adding: “But the surface is an open opportunity to everybody because the matches can be very close.”

Sure it is, but if Nadal can find a sprint start then pity his opponents in Wimbledon’s second week because the 28-year-old has demonstrated he has a killer finish.

After dropping the opening sets in his earlier matches against Martin Klizan and Lukas Rosol, Nadal astonishingly did the same again against the little-known world number 63.

But the manner of his recovery spelt out Nadal’s ambition for the week ahead, as he targets a third Wimbledon title and 15th grand slam title overall, which would station him two behind all-time leader Roger Federer.

“Normally I’m a good first-set player. M y opponent played great in the first set and I think I was playing fine. He played fantastic,” Nadal said.

“You have to accept that the match is long, accept that if he is able to play like this for three sets I will be in trouble.”

But few can sustain the hard-hitting and accuracy that gave Kukushkin his electric start. It was all-or-nothing tennis and could not last.

Nadal may have been put off his stride early on by the time it took to get under way, after the array of sporting celebrities in the Royal Box were introduced to the crowd, who also gave an ovation to the guests from Britain’s armed forces.

They got under way at 1.28pm, despite the match being billed for 1pm, and Nadal was a set down after almost an hour of play, with Kukushkin showing no sign of stage fright.

“When I played the first set, I said that maybe the roof here in Wimbledon is not good for me,” Nadal said.

With rain falling outside, at least Nadal got to play on schedule and to a finish. Play on all other courts was severely interrupted.

He had a grumble about the possibility of playing on back-to-back days next week, but added: ” For sure my opponents are in a worse position.”

Nadal was watched from the Royal Box by sporting stars including former Real Madrid star David Beckham. Nadal is a supporter of the Bernabeu giants, but the inspiration was all from within.

He finished with his arms aloft, flinging his wristbands and headband into the adoring crowd, and departed with a broad smile across his face.

Victories for Nadal and Federer on Saturday mean the prospect of the long-time ‘big four’ of the men’s game locking out all the semi-final places remains viable.

Asked how he, Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have exerted such dominance over their tour rivals in recent years, Nadal said: “We were fighters for every single tournament, we were there fighting for the whole year, another year, another year, and another year.

“I think is a good example for the kids, the motivation and passion for the game.

“I think the positive thing about this era is we have been playing a lot of times under a lot of pressure, playing for very important things for our careers.

“We are in the locker room. We still talk to each other. We have a very good relationship between us. That’s important because at the end tennis is only a game. The relationships, in my opinion, are more important than only a game.”

Sometimes it can be made to look an easy game, such as when Nadal is firing as he was towards the end against Kukushkin.

The nine-time French Open champion is making the transition from clay to grass as effectively as he hoped. Seeking to do the back-to-back double for the third time in his career, Nadal is fired up for this challenge.

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