Nadal's nervy wait


Last updated at 00:51 03 July 2007

Say it quickly in

English and under

your breath, but the

foibles and fidgeting of

Rafael Nadal could

cost him the Wimbledon title

this fortnight.

So finicky is the young Spaniard

when it comes to standing up to the

line and playing tennis that he

stretches points and games and

sets and matches beyond their

normal length.

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Add all this together and Nadal

would have finished his third set

tie-break against Robin Soderling

yesterday afternoon before the

showers which refuse to leave

Wimbledon alone drove the players

back to the locker room for a third


Had the No 2 seed won that tiebreak,

he could have showered,

fulfilled his media commitments

and left the All England Club and

its rain covers with peace of mind

that his odyssey towards Sunday's

final was still on schedule.

Instead, a pick of his pants here, a

tug of his shirt there, an extra swig

of drink, another wipe with his towel

and an unsuccessful challenge of a

line-call on match point and Nadal

was left high and dry in the locker

room when he would have preferred

only to have been dry.

Already two rounds behind Roger

Federer, courtesy of the defending

champion's walkover into the quarter-

finals, the 21-year-old was left to

contemplate another two hours

spent twiddling and fiddling, another

late-evening return to No 1 Court

and ultimately a restless night spent

wondering whether his chances of

the title have already gone.

Nadal holds a break of serve in the

fifth set and leads 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 4-6,

2-0, 30-30. The frustration which

was evident when he and Soderling re-emerged to conclude their tiebreak

at 7.14pm will only have

intensified by the time he comes

back to conclude the match after

fretting back at the house he is

renting in Wimbledon village.

Nine-and-a-quarter hours after

they were due to open proceedings

for the day on No 1 Court and still

this third-round match remained


So dark was it prior to the final,

violent downpour which wiped out

the remainder of the day's play that

the lights on the Hawk-Eye replay

screen dazzled with their glare.

Light meters would long since have

forced cricket umpires to abandon

play at Lord's.

It all added a surreal air to a

contest that just will not end. Those

spectators who had arrived hoping

to feast on a diet of exhilarating

tennis were still chewing an

indigestible entree as they made

their sodden way home.

With showers forecast to batter

the All England Club for the next

two days and disrupt matters

further, Nadal could be left having

to play every day until Sunday —

assuming he manages to escape

the clutches of his spiky Swedish


Far from being grateful to Nadal

for the tics and habits that allowed

the rain to delay a probable defeat

and him to collect his thoughts that

became scrambled at every pivotal

moment before the interruption,

Soderling may have surrendered

the initiative back to the world No 2

with his childish imitation of

Nadal's adjustment of his shorts.

As amusing as the crowd found

the by-play at the beginning of the

fifth set, Nadal was able to find a

focus that had been wandering

vaguely at the end of the fourth.

The break of serve he holds may

well be the decisive factor in the

outcome — whenever the match is


It was Soderling who struggled

with his concentration in the first

three sets. Time and again, the 28th

seed carved out opportunities to

break the Nadal serve or hold his

own to take a set only to capitulate

in self-doubt on each occasion.

Had Nadal's forehand down the

line at 7-6 in the third set tie-break

clipped the line instead of landing

an inch wide — an appeal to

Hawk-Eye served only to underline

the cruelty of the margin —

Soderling would have been departing

ruing his own brittleness.

Whatever he did during the rain

delay, there was a steely determination

in his eye when he returned to

the court. Two points — the first

luring Nadal into an error, the

second smacking an ace past the

Spaniard — and the Swede was

back in the match.

Using the crowd support to rile

Nadal, Soderling displayed

impeccable control to outlast his

opponent in cagey baseline rallies.

This time, when he broke for 4-3,

there was no hesitation in levelling

at two sets all.

Showing up Nadal and his foibles

in public only delayed a fifth set

that was already peering through

the gathering gloom.

Nadal can do that very well for


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