LONDON (Reuters) - The scoreboard said 6-4 6-3 6-4 to Rafael Nadal but it was an uneasy two-and-a-half hours for the Spanish world number one as he laboured past Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin into the Wimbledon third round on Thursday.
Twice champion Nadal, 32, never quite got to grips with the unorthodox Kazakh’s low, skidding shots and faced 13 break points in an entertaining Centre Court contest.
Had Kukushkin converted a few more of them it could have got really complicated for Nadal, who is still finding his grasscourt game after claiming an 11th French Open title.
The mere mention of Lukas Rosol, Steve Darcis and Dustin Brown — all of whom have knocked him out at the All England Club since he won the 2010 title — is enough to make Nadal’s face crease into a frown.
He also got a fright from Kukushkin when he dropped the opening set at Wimbledon in 2014 so there was clear relief in his voice as he stopped for a BBC TV interview on his way back to the locker room after a second successive straight-sets win.
“It was very tough because he played very well and his shots stay very low so it was a good test,” Nadal said.
“I am happy to go through, I think I played better than the first day. The most important thing is you can’t save your body at majors, you have to give your best.
Nadal took 10 minutes to hold his opening service game but, when he broke quickly in the next game and held to love for a 3-0 lead, it seemed Kukushkin had already shot his bolt.
The Kazakh, with a curious undercut double-handed backhand and some clever angles, broke back to level at 3-3 though before Kukushkin wobbled when serving at 4-5. Nadal wasted one set point with a poor slice into the net but got his nose in front when Kukushkin netted a simple-looking forehand.
An early break in the second set helped Nadal move into a two-set lead but he could not shake off the world number 77 who reached the semis on the Eastbourne grass last week.
Nadal was given his second time warning of the match by umpire Carlos Bernardes when he took forever to get himself organised on his courtside chair for the start of the third set.
Nadal had to fight off more break points but Kukushkin finally broke for a 3-1 lead as Nadal hooked a forehand wide after being taken out of his comfort zone — something Kukushkin did well throughout the match.
The response was emphatic though and Nadal broke back and then pounced again for a 5-4 lead. Serving for victory he made a complete hash of a simple volley but minutes later finished the job when a Kukushkin forehand slapped the tape.
Second seed Nadal is in to the third round for the eighth time where he will face Australian teenager Alex De Minaur.
Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Clare Fallon and Clare Lovell