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Nadal centre stage at Wimbledon as Covid forces third withdrawal

 Nadal centre stage at Wimbledon as Covid forces third withdrawal

Spain’s Rafael Nadal is chasing a third Wimbledon crown

London – Rafael Nadal tops the bill at Wimbledon on Thursday after Roberto Bautista Agut became the third player to withdraw from the Championships following a positive coronavirus test.

In early results on the fourth day of the tournament, women’s fourth seed Paula Badosa set up a third-round clash against two-time winner Petra Kvitova.

Second seed Nadal, hunting a rare calendar Grand Slam, takes on Lithuanian journeyman Ricardas Berankis in the second round on Centre Court with his path to the semi-finals opening up.

Spanish 17th seed Bautista Agut became the third potential dangerman in Nadal’s half of the draw to pull out with Covid, following the withdrawals of 2021 runner-up Matteo Berrettini and 2017 finalist Marin Cilic.

“Today I have notified @Wimbledon of my withdrawal. I have tested positive for Covid-19,” tweeted the 34-year-old Bautista Agut, a semi-finalist in 2019.

“Fortunately, the symptoms are not very serious, but I think it is the best decision. Thanks for your support. I hope to come back soon.”

His exit means that Colombia’s Daniel Elahi Galan receives a walkover into the last 32.

Wimbledon was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic while the 2021 edition was run at reduced capacity with players confined to a bubble, but this year it is back to business as usual at the All England Club.

Nadal has also benefited from a shock first-round exit for Canada’s sixth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, who took him to five sets at the French Open.

The major threat to the Spaniard’s hopes for a third Wimbledon crown on his side of the draw is Greek fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who plays Australia’s Jordan Thompson.

Nadal, 36, is halfway to a calendar Slam after winning the Australian Open and French Open this year. The feat has not been achieved since 1969.

The 22-time Grand Slam champion struggled with crippling foot pain at Roland Garros but has received treatment aimed at reducing the pain and was moving freely in his first-round match on Tuesday.

Seeds are also tumbling on the other side of the men’s draw, with notable early losers including third seed Casper Ruud and last year’s semi-finalist Hubert Hurkacz.

But top seed Novak Djokovic, seeking to draw level with Pete Sampras on seven Wimbledon titles, is already safely through to the last 32.

– Badosa sets up Kvitova clash –

In the women’s tournament, Badosa beat Romania’s Irina Bara 6-3, 6-2 while Czech 25th seed Kvitova came through 6-1, 7-6 (7/5) against Ana Bogdan, also from Romania.

Kvitova, who won Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014, blew a 5-1 lead in the second set but held her nerve to come out on top in the tie-break.

Badosa said she expected a tough contest against Kvitova, who won the Eastbourne tournament on grass last week.

“She plays very well on grass,” said the Spaniard. “She won last week. I practise with her on grass, as well, so I know what I’m going to find out there. 

“She has confidence as well, but I think I have the game that I could play a tough match against her. Of course I think I will have my opportunities there.”

Top seed Iga Swiatek, who has won her past six tournaments, takes on Dutch player Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove, looking to extend her winning run to 37 matches.

“It’s amazing for me to have that kind of streak,” said the 21-year-old French Open champion. “It just shows how much work we’ve been putting for every match. 

“I’m pretty happy that I could show consistency because it was always my goal.”

Simona Halep, the 2019 champion, plays Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens while 11th seed Coco Gauff faces Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu.