Roger Federer did not want to be in Madrid in the first place. Yesterday his twin sons celebrated their first birthday, but, while he was supposed to be slicing cake and blowing out candles for little Lenny and Leo, he was hard at work at the Mutua Madrid Open. No wonder he had a face like thunder.
Nick Kyrgios did not help, either, as he finally out-muscled Federer 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 to reach the third round in Madrid last night.
It took him six match points to do it – and he had to fend off two match points for Federer, but, finally, Kyrgios held his nerve to win.
The young Australian with the huge serve and the even bigger swagger gave the Swiss master the run-around. Just ten days out of his teenage years – he turned 20 on 27 April – Kyrgios had claimed that now was the time to “get serious”.
Sure enough, he looked deadly earnest as he raced to an early lead in the first set (he was soon hauled back by Federer, mind you) and then dominated the second-set tiebreak.
He then did the unthinkable and ousted the top seed in the third-set shoot-out.
If Federer was unhappy to have to been in Madrid, he was seething by the time he left.
Rafael Nadal was feeling considerably better than his old rival. He managed to win a match on clay and win it with ease.
In any other year, such a straightforward 6-4, 6-3 win over the journeyman, Steve Johnson, from the United States, would have barely rated a mention, but this is not any other year.
Nadal has played poorly on every surface since the start of January and, just a couple of weeks ago, played such a miserable match to lose to Fabio Fognini in Barcelona that he claimed to be “deeply ashamed” of himself.
With the French Open – practically Nadal’s home event, given that he has won it nine times in the past ten years – only two-and-a-half weeks away, the world No 4 needs to get himself back into competitive shape if he is to stand any chance of defending his title in Paris.
The best he could say about yesterday’s match was that he was not injured – a real plus – and that it was over in good time for him to get back to the hotel and watch Barcelona in the Champions League. Yesterday’s work-out was not fancy, it was not impressive – it simply got the job done.
“I went out there to do a simple game with no complications,” Nadal said. “I tried to play easily. I didn’t try to look for complicated things.
“I know how things work out when you come from losing a couple of matches. I know that you’re a little bit nervous whenever you finish a game as I finished the other day with Fognini in Barcelona.
“I tried to start from the bottom and just go up. I think especially the last three games I finished pretty well. I managed to do a couple more things with my backhand.”
Everyone has been rushing to write off the Spaniard, particularly as the tour homes in on Roland Garros. Nadal, though, is sanguine about the whole affair.
He knows he is not playing well and that there is every chance that he may not win a title on clay this year. But, then again, there is always next year. After a lifetime of negotiating injuries and the subsequent comebacks, he knows that patience is his best weapon.
“This year I started the year and it’s not been very regular,” he said.
“Maybe more irregular than what I wanted. I accept it. I just face it. I try to work day after day to go back to the regularity. I try to build my confidence. After that, let’s see how things happen. If they don’t go the right way, I have to face it and try to make it better. I’m convinced they’re going to work out.
“I don’t know if it’s this tournament or the next one or in five, six months or a years’ time, but I don’t have any reason to think that things are not going to work out.
“I’m happy. I have the feeling and I know things are going to work out. I haven’t lost my game. I just need to build my confidence and it’ll work out.
“I know that either sooner or later it will come back. That’s what I want to think. I’m convinced about it.
“After that, it’s matter of time. Let’s see when it happens.”