It didn’t matter that Rafael Nadal had been out of competition for 45 days due to cracked ribs and had to play outdoors and indoors in the same match. It also didn’t matter that Miomir Kecmanovic is 13 years younger than the Spaniard.
And it didn’t matter that the Serb knew, in theory, all the weak points of his opponent because his coach is David Nalbandian.
The Argentine, represented by Carlos Costa, Rafa’s lifelong agent, during his playing career, played seven matches against Nadal, winning two of them, one in Madrid. But it was on the hard surface of the Rockodromo de la Casa de Campo.
On the Caja Magica hard court on Wednesday, the five-time champion made his umpteenth comeback with a 6-1, 7-6(4) win in 1 hour and 55 minutes.
He has now won 465 matches on clay and lost just 43, giving him a winning percentage of 91.53 per cent.
The Manolo Santana court was sold out to see the national idol. Rafa announced that he did not arrive in the Spanish capital in his best form, but his performance was the opposite.
And bear in mind that Kecmanovic, his victim, is not just anyone, and less so in a year when he has reached the quarters in his last six tournaments.
The rain was noticeable until it definitively interrupted the match at 1-0 and 0-15 for the Serb in the second set. The first had fallen to the Spaniard, only dropping a single game. The action had gone on for 48 minutes.
Nadal had not played on clay since he lost in the semi-final of Roland Garros 2021 against Novak Djokovic on June 11.
It had been 327 days, but it seemed as if this season’s number one came into this tournament, as almost always, on the back of having won in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.
Nalbandian took advantage of the break to refresh his disciple’s ideas. It took 20 minutes to close the roof of the centre court. This was an eternity to Nadal, in a hurry to finish and get over to the Bernabeu to watch the Champions League semi-finals between his beloved Real Madrid and Manchester City.
At 17:38 the tennis returned with Nadal serving. It remained to be seen how the two players would adapt to their new habitat.
Suddenly, Kecmanovic had a break point. He missed it. The Serb remained level until the fifth game of the set.
He conceded the third break, but quickly broke back. The victory could have come in the eleventh game of the set as Nadal had a chance to break, but Serbian player did not give up and forced sudden death.
Rafa will face the winner of the match between David Goffin, recent winner in Marrakech, and Botic Van de Zandschulp, finalist in Munich on Sunday.
The Race leader is also looking at the rankings and in the Caja Mágica he has the chance to regain his place on the ATP podium at the expense of Alexander Zverev. To be ahead of the German before Roland Garros would mean not facing Novak Djokovic until a hypothetical final.