WIMBLEDON, England — Trying to switch directions while chasing a shot beneath the Royal Box at Wimbledon's Centre Court, Rafael Nadal lost his footing and took a nasty-looking spill, flinging his racket in the air while he fell.
The Spaniard was OK, even if he did land on his back behind the baseline and glanced overhead to make sure his equipment wasn't going to nail him in the noggin. Nadal toweled off and, four games later, wrapped up a 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Japan's Kei Nishikori in the first round at the All England Club.
It was merely a coincidence, of course, that Nadal's third-set tumble Tuesday left him in nearly the same position, and in the same spot, that he found himself the last time he played a match at Wimbledon, almost two full years ago. Except on that occasion, he was dropping to the grass on purpose to celebrate beating Roger Federer in the 2008 final.
Nadal didn't defend that championship, withdrawing last year because of painful tendinitis in his knees. Now he's healthy, reinstated at No. 1 in the rankings, once again the reigning French Open champion — and back on what he called "probably the most beautiful and emblematic court in the world."
Said Nadal: "I'm happy to be here again."
He's also happy to be able to scamper around a court as only he can, knowing that his knees won't let him down.
Another past Wimbledon winner coming off an injury, Maria Sharapova, also played Tuesday, and also won convincingly, eliminating 127th-ranked Anastasia Pivovarova of Russia 6-1, 6-0 in only 54 minutes.
Sharapova had right shoulder surgery in October 2008 and was sidelined for about 10 months, then was hampered by a right elbow injury this season. She's had to toy with her service motion, in addition to confronting worries about when she would regain the strokes that helped her win Wimbledon at age 17 in 2004, then two other Grand Slam titles.
"You never know until things happen," Sharapova said. "I mean, I believed that I would be back. Did I really know? I assumed, and I had a lot of belief in myself, and I had a tremendous amount of support."