Rafa finds time for horseplay
WIMBLEDON, England -- The life of a tennis player, although often extraordinary and filled with endless perks, follows a simple pattern, one etched deeply in the routine: Play a match, and the next day go to practice.
Rafael Nadal is no exception. Rather, he's more stringent than most in application.
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After dispatching an acrobatic Michael Russell to open Centre Court proceedings, the defending champion was back at it, accompanied by the usual suspects of coach Uncle Toni, trainer Rafael Maymo and his good buddy and occasional doubles partner Marc Lopez.
In an extended session at Wimbledon's premium practice venue, Nadal flashed his trademark intensity, but also had fun. He dove in Russell-like fashion and was seemingly punished later, albeit gently, for losing a light-hearted challenge. When time was up, Nadal and Uncle Toni stuck around for some scouting.
First to business.
Nadal traded groundstrokes with Lopez and, befitting someone ranked 852nd in singles, the latter was often outmatched. Nadal's heavy forehand, in particular, was too much to handle. But the kind of look the world No. 1 exhibits in encounters when missing a stroke -- the brief glare in Uncle Toni's direction -- surfaced, too.
As practice continued, Nadal sought the services of Nenad Zimonjic, who was on the next court with his doubles partner, Michael Llodra. Nadal blasted balls from the baseline in a one-versus-two formation. Both of his opponents repelled them at the net.
A break soon followed.
Nadal, Lopez and Maymo, sitting at the back fence, took turns tossing a tennis ball. The goal, maybe, was to see which of the trio could get the ball closest to the service line about 10 yards away. Whatever the purpose, Nadal didn't fare well, since he was the only one doing six push-ups, to the amusement of Lopez.
Subsequently, another of Nadal's pals, Feliciano Lopez, took to the parallel court with Milos Raonic, Nadal's potential third-round opponent. Their session began oddly -- Feliciano Lopez, more brooding than many in matches, was actually seen laughing as he did laps with the breakthrough Canadian.
When Nadal dived to attempt a backhand volley, Feliciano Lopez sauntered over, commenting on how difficult Russell's dives were Monday. Russell, at one point, outdid Boris Becker, diving once to each side.
Raonic won more points than he lost against the left-hander; he was a notch above his sparring partner in intensity.
It was Nadal's turn to relinquish the court to Marcos Baghdatis, but he stayed in the enclosure. Nadal and Uncle Toni focused their attention on Raonic, eyes glued, even when the 20-year-old received serve. Raonic must down the unpredictable Gilles Muller to land in the third round.
Nadal did finally leave, jokingly trash-talking at Feliciano Lopez as he left.
A horde of autograph hunters, waiting for Nadal near the entrance of the complex, began with desperate shouts of "Rafa, Rafa" as he approached. Nadal obliged, signing for an array of fans. In a noteworthy calm-during-the-storm moment, Nadal needed to use his phone to make contact with his team, which wasn't far away -- and most of the pleading temporarily stopped. Once he was off his phone, they started again.
Then he was down a tunnel. Lunch, a rubdown and a discussion of his next opponent were possibly on the cards.
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
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