Amid all the drama of upsets, retirements and walkovers on Day Three at Wimbledon, 15th seed Nicolas Almagro made progress with a minimum of fuss.
The Spaniard reached the third round at the All England Club for the fourth time in five years following a 7-5, 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-4 victory over France’s Guillaume Rufin, setting up a showdown with the big-hitting No.24 seed Jerzy Janowicz.
“I needed to play my best tennis [today and] I’m very happy for that,” he said.
“Today was really tough because he is a really good server.”
Indeed, watching Rufin was like harkening back to the 1990s at Wimbledon, where big serves dominated the lawns. The Frenchman’s powerful delivery ensured many quick service games, while his flat, offensive groundstrokes kept rallies fairly short.
Alternatively, Almagro appears another of the clay-bred Spanish brigade, and judging by his career results – 12 titles and a further eight finals, all on the dirt – it’s an easy assumption to make.
But his classically-crafted game translates well to grass. A versatile one-handed backhand, capable of biting slice. A surprisingly big serve, given his short stature. The ability to flatten out his forehand and penetrate the court.
It all combined to give him the perfect start on No.3 Court, when he broke serve in the opening game on his way to a 2-0 lead.
Rufin, almost 70 places behind his opponent in the ATP rankings, began to settle into the contest. Marshalling his brutish serve, he won four of the next five games and managed to erase the service break deficit.
Yet he came unstuck in the 10th game. A double fault was followed by an error, and when Almagro produced a forehand winner – accompanying it with the cry of “c’mon Nico!” – Rufin was facing three break points. He dumped a routine forehand into the net on the very next point, surrendering his serve to love.
Almagro made him pay, holding serve to take a one-set lead.
The second, despite being extremely close, was devoid of tension. Thanks to powerful serving and first-strike play from both men they held serve with ease, and the set progressed, appropriately, to a tiebreak.
Almagro scored an immediate mini-break but lost it immediately after framing a backhand, and while a service winner brought up a set point for the Spaniard at 6-5, Rufin won three straight points – the last an off-forehand winner – to level scores at a set apiece.
The momentum swing seemed to snap Almagro into action.
He tightened up his game and snared the only service break of the set on his way to a 5-2 lead. Accompanying his play was plenty of attitude, with long looks down the court at Rufin after winners on big points, and loud celebrations following sizzling winners.
The Spaniard served out the set in style, with a loud grunt after his winning smash an added exclamation point.
And so began the fourth, where a similar pattern to set two emerged. It resultantly hummed along on serve until the ninth game, during which Almagro made his move.
In a thrilling point at 15-15, Rufin belted two overheads which Almagro retrieved before the Spaniard chased down a drop volley – sending it straight back at the Frenchman – to eventually win the point.
A Rufin double fault two points later followed by a backhand error handed Almagro a crucial break and 5-4 lead.
He served it out to love, capping victory with an ace and booking his date with Janowicz.
“I respect him (Janowicz). I want to play my best tennis and I know I need to fight if I want to be in the fourth round. I need to be focused,” he said.
“Like a war, you need to be ready for anything. I’m a warrior and I’m going to fight.”
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
20:19It was the wackiest of Wimbledons with the most unlikely of headline-makers: Sergiy Stakhovsky, Steve Darcis, Michelle Larcher de Brito, Kimiko-Date Krumm, Jerzy Janowicz, Sabine Lisicki, Marion Bartoli...View all