Rafael Nadal makes a winning return to a grass court against Kei Nishikori
Last Updated: 21/06/13 5:17pm
Rafael Nadal: Beat Japan's Kei Nishikori in a warm-up for Wimbledon
Rafael Nadal made a winning return to a grass court for the first time in competitive action in almost 12 months with a tight 7-6 (7/3) 7-6 (7/4) victory against Japan's Kei Nishikori.
The Spaniard secured the win in the exhibition BNP Paribas Tennis Classic at London's Hurlingham Club in his first match since lifting the French Open title on the red clay at Roland Garros for a record eighth time 12 days ago.
There were a few rusty moments on the Spaniard's return to grass, which was not surprising considering his last match on the surface ended in a shock second-round defeat to Lukas Rosol, a player who was then ranked 100th in the world, at last year's Wimbledon.
But Nadal, who missed the US Open and Australian Open during a seven-month lay-off with a knee injury, looked in fine physical form after pulling out of the Halle tournament following Roland Garros to take a rest at home in Majorca.
"I'm happy to play the event at the Hurlingham Club, especially as I haven't played on grass since the French Open," said Nadal, who faces Belgium's Steve Darcis in the first round at Wimbledon on Monday.
Nadal, who controversially is seeded five at SW19 where he is scheduled to meet Roger Federer in the quarter-finals and Andy Murray in the semis, was swiftly into his stride, breaking Nishikori's serve in the first game of the match.
But Nishikori, a quarter-finalist at the Australian Open last year and who had lost narrowly to Murray on the same Hurlingham court on Thursday, immediately broke back in a hard-fought set which yielded four breaks of serve and some patchy tennis before Nadal showed his tenacious spirit to take the tie-break 7-3.
Nadal, with a bandage protecting the site of the partially torn patella tendon in his left knee, looked more comfortable in the second set, a series of trademark ripping forehands pressurising his opponent.
Even so the set went to another tie-break and, with the thunderclouds gathering, Nadal needed all his determination to wrap up the match.
The hard stuff starts on Monday but if this initial run-out in the sun at Hurlingham is anything to go by Nadal is raring to go on the grass of SW19 and on a mission to show the All England Club got it wrong when they decided not to change the seeding of the two-time Wimbledon champion from his world ranking of five, an arguably false position caused by his injury lay-off.