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Rafa digs deep to edge past Rosol

Maria Sharapova after her victory over Timea Bacsinszky, on Thursday

London: World No. 1 Rafael Nadal pulled back from the abyss to reach the Wimbledon third round on Thursday, just when it looked as though bogeyman Lukas Rosol had returned to haunt him.

Two years after being knocked out at the same stage by the hard-hitting Czech in a late night Centre Court horror show, the Spaniard found himself a point away from falling two sets behind before fighting back to win 4-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4, 6-4.

If twice former champion Nadal is being made to work overtime so far, women’s favourite Serena Williams, bidding for a sixth singles title at the All England club, has marched through untroubled so far. The American beat South African Chanelle Scheepers 6-1, 6-1 and has dropped a mere five games so far.

Australia wildcard Nick Kyrgios produced the comeback of the day to knock out French 13th seed Richard Gasquet. One of several young guns making an impact at the championships, the 19-year-old battled back from a two-set deficit and saved nine match points in a cliffhanger decider before sealing a 3-6, 6-7 (4-7), 6-4, 7-5, 10-8 victory.

Sharp-shooter Roger Federer fired down 25 aces as he flattened Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 under a closed Centre Court roof. A year after perishing in a shock second-round defeat, he spared his legion of fans another dose of nail-biting drama as he produced a masterclass in serving.

Maria Sharapova put in a business-like performance to cast aside qualifier Timea Bacsinszky 6-2, 6-1 in only an hour on her way to the third round. The fifth seed showed the sort of ruthless precision that won her the French Open title this month. She broke Bacsinszky’s serve five times on Thursday, forcing her Swiss opponent to scramble left and right to retrieve powerful groundstrokes.

Kyrgios, who could play Nadal in the last 16, was not the only player to survive a five-setter on Thursday.

His third round opponent, young Czech Jiri Vesely, beat French 24th seed Gael Monfils 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 6-7 (1-7), 6-7 (3-7), 6-4. Monfils’s compatriot Jo-Wilfried Tsonga edged past American Sam Querrey, winning a deciding set hung over from Wednesday 14-12.

Ana Ivanovic, the 11 th seed, too breezed through to the third round, defeating China’s Jie Zhang 6-4, 6-0. The 28-year-old Nadal is never more vulnerable than in the early rounds at Wimbledon as he makes the tricky transition from his beloved bouncy claycourts to the low, skidding ball which is the norm on fresh green grass.

After battling past feisty Slovakian Martin Klizan in the opening round, Nadal found himself in an even deeper hole against a man who sent his world spinning off its axis in 2012.

Rosol’s dramatic five-set victory under the Centre Court roof two years ago was the last match Nadal played for seven months as the pain in his battle-scarred knees finally got the better of him.

This time, with second seed Nadal clearly in much better physical condition, the pattern was ominously familiar as 52nd ranked Rosol came out all guns blazing. Thundering down aces and making mincemeat of Nadal’s serves at times with some savage returns, Rosol showed the 14-times Grand Slam champion little respect, rattling through some games in the blink of an eye.

Rosol broke serve in the ninth game when Nadal misfired a forehand and then closed out the set with a quickfire love game. The Czech was seeing the ball like football in the second set too, continually pinning Nadal back, and when he established a break to lead 4-2 he appeared to have the Spaniard at his mercy.

In men’s doubles, old warhorse Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek, seeded fifth, advanced to the second round defeating the Polish-American duo of Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Rajeev Ram 6-2, 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 6-4.

Rohan Bopanna too joined Leander in the second round. The Indo-Pak pair of Bopanna and Aisam-ul Haq Qureshi made a winning start to their men’s doubles campaign beating unfancied pair of Frantisek Cermak and Mikhail Elgin in straight sets 7-6 (11-9), 7-6 (10-8), 6-3. The experienced duo prevailed in little over two hours as they clinched the issue on big points during both the tie-breaks.