Commentary

Look who's helping Rafael Nadal

Updated: June 24, 2011, 2:08 PM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- Yen-Hsun "Rendy" Lu smiled broadly after an intense hit with world No. 1 Rafael Nadal on Friday. Nadal, as usual, stuck to business on court under the watchful eye of Uncle Toni.

Asked if he had a good practice, Li, the first Asian man to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam, responded, "Yeah," before adding, "I don't know if he had a good practice."

Lu, from Chinese Taipei, was one of the feel-good stories of last year's Wimbledon.

His late father, a chicken farmer, hoped one day his son, who'd often chase those chickens, could crack the top 100. Lu had already achieved that by the time he upset three-time Wimbledon finalist Andy Roddick in the fourth round, adding to his giant-killing ways.

"Sometimes I close my eyes and it [seems] like it just happened yesterday," said Lu, who toppled Andy Murray at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and David Nalbandian at the Australian Open in 2009.

But Lu hasn't progressed this season. He began the campaign with a wretched seven straight losses, suffering another four-match losing streak heading into the brief grass-court swing. Winning two rounds here provided much-needed relief.

Lu, who meets French serve-and-volleyer Michael Llodra on Saturday, can't pinpoint the source of his woes.

"I don't know if it's body-wise or mentally-wise or tennis-wise," said Lu, who is 57th in the rankings, more than 20 spots below his career high. "I prepare very good. The beginning of the year I had really tough draws, and these things affected my confidence. It's not looking good from my results, but I'm happy to come back on grass and happy to win two matches already. I'm trying to be positive and fight through every match."

Lu drew inspiration from Li Na's title at the French Open, which marked a maiden Grand Slam singles title for an Asian.

Are the men to follow?

"We can see this, and we know everything is possible," Lu said. "It's a positive sign for us. But [among the] men, it's really tough, more difficult than the women."

Back together again

Nadal scurried off, though not before posing for a picture with a boy, seemingly an early adolescent, who plotted his route toward the Spaniard with the help of his family.

Nadal was also in good spirits, perhaps bolstered by the recent reunion of his parents. Their split affected Nadal in 2009, likely one of the reasons he dipped on court.

"It's good for his life but won't affect his game because last year it wasn't like that, and he won three Grand Slams," Toni Nadal said.

But what about two years ago?

"It's forgotten, 2009," he added.

Fun and games

Novak Djokovic, who has advanced quietly through two rounds, traded groundstrokes with Mikhail Youzhny. The Russian possesses one of the nicest, most lethal backhands in the men's game, as Djokovic discovered when a return came back with interest.

"Don't serve to his backhand," Djokovic said loudly to himself, smiling.

When another backhand return fizzed by the Serb, Djokovic's coach, Marian Vajda, piped in, again light-heartedly.

"No backhand, I told you," he said, looking in the direction of Youzhny's experienced coach, Boris Sobkin. Djokovic meets Marcos Baghdatis on Saturday in a rematch of their five-hour tussle at Wimbledon in 2007, while Youzhny, unable to back up 2010 so far, faces the enigmatic Nicolas Almagro in a potentially gruesome battle.

Youzhny became a YouTube sensation when, facing Almagro in Miami in 2008, he famously smacked himself in the head with his racket three times, drawing blood.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.