With the sun setting behind Centre Court, Rafael Nadal was racing to get done so he could concentrate on another important match.
The four-time French Open champion chalked one up for Spain over Germany at 9:12 pm on Saturday with his 7-6 (3), 6-2, 6-3 win over Nicolas Kiefer in the third round at Wimbledon.
But that wasn’t the Spain vs Germany victory that was foremost in his mind immediately after the match — that could come Sunday when the Spaniards take on the Germans at the European Championship final in Vienna, Austria.
The middle Sunday a rest day at Wimbledon, and the last thing Nadal wanted was his third-round contest with Kiefer to be being carried over until Monday if it got too dark to keep playing. “I was a little bit nervous, because for me it was important to finish the match,” said Nadal, stifling a yawn.
It was in the corresponding stage last year when his third-round match with Robin Soderling spanned four days because of rain. Nadal went on to lose in the final to Roger Federer for the second straight year.
So after a first set that lasted 67 minutes and went to a tiebreaker on Saturday, it was getting close to 8 p.m. and he instinctively lifted a gear.
He raced through the second set in 33 minutes, hitting winners off both wings, and was serving for the match at 5-1 at 9:03 p.m. in the third set.
Then he lost his focus for a bit. Kiefer broke him, for the first time in the match, and then held serve for 5-3.
With the stairwell lights in the Royal Box, the occasional camera flash and the scoreboard glow the only artificial lights adding illumination in the shadowy court, Nadal made no mistake next time. He held at love to finish in 2 hours, 22 minutes, then he punched the air, took off both wrist bands and threw them into the crowd. “I had an unbelievable mistake with the volley, the forehand volley at 5-1, and later he has a very good serve,” he said. “Lucky for me, later I played a good game.”
Rafa loves his football and has a bit of pedigree. His uncle, Miguel Angel Nadal a.k.a. “The Beast of Barcelona,” played for Spain in three World Cup campaigns in 1994, ‘98 and 2002. So on Sunday evening, he planned to be kicking back with some of the other Spanish tennis players at his place in Wimbledon Village watching the coverage from Ernst Happel Stadium. Spain will be trying to win its first piece of major football silverware since its 2-1 win over the Soviet Union in the 1964 European Championship final.
Asked if his win was the first of two for the weekend for Spain, Nadal was confident.
“Tomorrow is another history, no? Happy for my win, but tomorrow is very important,” he said.
“If we are not confident right now with this team we’re never going to be confident.” Not that he thought the Spanish team would be using his win over Kiefer as motivation.
“I don’t think I’m going to help nothing, but for sure I’m going to be supporting the Spanish team 100 percent,” he said. After that, the 22-year-old Nadal can re-set his focus on becoming the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1980 to win back-to-back French Open and Wimbledon titles. The likely roadblock is Federer, who has won the last five Wimbledon titles and is on a 61-match grass-court streak.