By David Law
Barely 24 hours since lifting his fifth Roland Garros crown at the French Open on Sunday, the new World No.1 Rafael Nadal arrived in London for the AEGON Championships on Monday, and promptly started practicing on grass, in the pouring rain.
The Spaniard was mobbed by hundreds of adoring fans when his car pulled up at The Queen’s Club. In the locker-room he was greeted with handshakes, pats on the back and even a small round of applause by the other players. Then he got ready to practice.
Moments later the weather, which had remained dry throughout the day, turned. Rain started falling, play on the Centre Court was suspended and a practice-session seemed impossible. Even the tennis nets were taken down.
Nadal wasn’t worried. He just picked up his bag and made for the practice courts. Head Groundsman, Graham Kimpton, who has worked at The Queen’s Club for more than 20 years and gets on famously with the players, was there. “You don’t want to play, do you?” Kimpton asked, bemused. Nadal smiled, and nodded.
Kimpton laughed, and immediately ordered his team to put the net back up. The rain continued, but Nadal found his rhythm within seconds, swiping violent forehands and backhands at his hitting partner.
With the light fading and the rain unrelenting, Nadal called it a day after 20 minutes, satisfied that he was ready for the doubles match he will play with partner Marc Lopez on Tuesday, and his first singles match on Wednesday.
“I am very happy to come back to this very nice club and to be back on grass, which is one of my favourite surfaces,” said Nadal afterwards. “The conditions were not easy to practice in today, and I want to thank the Tournament organisers very much for letting me — I know that it’s not the best for the court, but for me it was very important to make contact with the new surface (grass). This is always a very important tournament for me, I won it in 2008, I love to be back at this club, and I am going to try my best.”
Nadal and Lopez will face Rainer Schuettler and Janko Tipsarevic in doubles on Tuesday, and then the Spaniard will take on Marcos Daniel in singles on Tuesday.
On Monday at the AEGON Championships, Dennis Istomin, Robby Ginepri and Richard Gasquet were all winners.
On Tuesday, Alex Bogdanovic and Grigor Dimitrov will conclude a match that stands at one set all, before Gael Monfils meets Rainer Schuettler, defending champion Andy Murray takes on Ivan Navarro, and then four-time winner Andy Roddick faces Igor Kunitsyn. After that Nadal and Lopez will take to the court.
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