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Rafa Nadal battles through first-round match at Wimbledon, Auger-Aliassime joins exodus of seeds

By Ricky Dimon

Just two days into Wimbledon, there has already been a mass exodus of title favorites from the bottom half of the draw. 

For a brief moment on Tuesday afternoon, it looked like Rafael Nadal might be a part of it.

Instead, the reigning Australian Open and French Open champion recovered from losing the third set and falling behind by a break in the fourth to hold off Francisco Cerundolo 6-4, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. Playing his first match at the All-England Club since 2019, Nadal advanced after three hours and 33 minutes.

“(It was) difficult, yeah,” the 36-year-old reflected. “Well, (that’s) something expected because (I) didn’t play on grass for three years. Being honest, he played at (a) very high level for such a long time. He started to not miss balls, serving well, hitting great forehands, and especially great backhands. Normally he has a great forehand, but the backhand today on his side was great.

“(The) positive thing (is) I finished the match playing well. The last couple of games I raised up my level without a doubt. That gave me the chance to end with a victory. But, yeah, (it was a) very positive match for me. Of course there is an important room to keep improving, but I am sure this match (is) going to help.”

There is no doubt that Nadal will have to improve if he is going to add leg No. 3 of the calendar-year Grand Slam, but he won’t have to face at least a few big names that had been in his projected path to the final. After Marin Cilic withdrew on Monday because of a positive Covid-19 test, Matteo Berrittini was forced out with the same on Tuesday. Nadal vs. Cilic could have been a fourth-round showdown, while Nadal and Berrettini were on a collision course for the semifinals.

Additionally, Felix Auger-Aliassime–a possible quarterfinal opponent for the 22-time major winner–lost on Tuesday afternoon. In what was one of the marquee first-round matchups, Eastbourne runner-up and world No. 45 Maxime Cressy took down Auger-Aliassime 6-7(5), 6-4, 7-6(9), 7-6(5) after four hours and 10 minutes.

“It’s very disappointing, that’s for sure,” the Canadian admitted. “But I just need to face the reality. The reality is I lost today, and there is nothing I can do anymore even though of course I had higher ambitions for this tournament. In order to one day win a tournament like this, I need to be able to beat players like today and many different players along the way.

“I knew [Cressy’s serve-and-volley] was coming, but the quality of the serve was impressive, I have to say, I have played the likes of John Isner, Milos (Raonic), (Reilly) Opelka, but he’s with these guys. He’s definitely with these guys.

“If he keeps that going, I see this guy being…even on hard courts he’s going to be tough to play. Clay could be different, but I see him being like those guys–being able to be in the top 20 and more. We’ll see. He has really high qualities, better than his ranking today.”

Next up for Cressy is an all-American encounter with Jack Sock, while Nadal will go up against Ricardas Berankis on Thursday.

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.