The reality for Nadal and Federer

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LONDON -- The ball was struck surprisingly deep, within inches of Roger Federer's white shoes along the Court No. 1 left baseline, but the resourceful Swiss player adjusted and cracked a crisp half-volley back at Paolo Lorenzi.

Even as he followed through, Federer began sprinting back to the right side and, sure enough, Lorenzi's reply carried him into the doubles alley, where he nailed a running forehand down the line for a clean winner.

Although Federer was still in play, Rafael Nadal was out on Centre Court trading furious forehands -- treading water, actually -- with Martin Klizan.

Back in the day, they owned this place.

In a span of 10 years, Federer and Nadal won nine Wimbledon titles. From 2003 to 2012 they had an iron-clad monopoly on the All England Club; for three straight years they were the only men's finalists, culminating in 2008 with one of the greatest tennis matches of all time.

Neither is the favorite here this year -- that peculiar pressure falls to No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic -- but Federer and Nadal, who have a combined 60-plus years on this planet, are still formidable despite a few recent hiccups on this living, breathing surface. Nadal was bounced in the first round at the All England Club last year by Steve Darcis -- the first time he lost in the first round of a major -- and out of the second round two years ago. Federer was a second-round casualty in 2013, falling to No. 116-ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky.

On Tuesday, they stepped onto Wimbledon's show courts and offered drastically contrasting performances.

Nadal ended a 0-for-7 set streak on grass, but struggled to beat a man ranked 50 spots below him, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. It was his 700th ATP World Tour victory -- and his first on grass in two years.

Federer, meanwhile, was a ho-hum 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 winner over Lorenzi.

"I got the break I think in all three sets in the first return game," Federer said. "So from that standpoint, I was always up in the score. It's easier to play that way.

"I served well, returned well, also tried to come forward a bit. I could really do everything out there."

Nadal was not nearly so fortunate.

In fairness, Klizan, a 24-year-old Slovakian, was a tricky first-round opponent. He stunned No. 10-ranked Kei Nishikori in the first round at Roland Garros, then won back-to-back matches on grass for the first time in his career in advancing to the quarterfinals at Eastbourne.

"Always, the first is so dangerous," Nadal said afterward. "Just happy to be through. I really know that is impossible to play my best in the first round today. My goal was just to win."

The King of Clay has won 66 of 67 matches at Roland Garros, producing an unparalleled record of nine French Open titles. But that effort, particularly in recent years, has cost Nadal dearly. After reaching the Wimbledon final five times in five appearances from 2006 to 2011, he has had some traumatic transition issues with grass.

On Thursday, in a delightful twist of symmetry, Nadal will play the man who beat him here in the 2012 second round: Lukas Rosol.

"He's a very dangerous player," Nadal said, "very powerful from the baseline. I will have to play my best to beat him. The important thing is to fight and play with the right attitude."

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