By Mark Meadows
LONDON (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal had his fans drooling with another muscle-bulging display of brilliance to crush Ryan Sweeting 6-3 6-2 6-4 on Wednesday and stay firmly on course to defend his Wimbledon title.
With rain in the air and the roof closed, wolf whistles echoed around Center Court when the Spaniard changed his shirt and gasps of awe met his most effortless winners in a one-sided second-round match.
"It was a new experience for me (under the roof), a good experience. But the tournament is outdoor, not indoor, and I prefer to play outdoor," Nadal told a news conference.
"I don't know if because of this change the atmosphere inside the court with the roof is more humid or because it was raining before the match or something. But seems like the court is a little more slippery than usual."
Despite slight trepidation under the roof, the champion barely sent a forehand long or wide throughout the encounter, -- even when under pressure -- and his rampant serves and pinpoint volleys were equally impressive.
Nadal had started the French Open in nervous fashion last month before gradually improving and peaking in time to beat Roger Federer yet again in the final.
In contrast, he has found his groove straight away at Wimbledon and the prospect of him playing still better next week would frighten even the most avid supporter of Federer, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray.
He next takes on Gilles Muller, a man who beat him at Wimbledon in 2005, but Nadal is feeling so confident again that he sharply dealt with a question about whether he is in decline following a slightly shaky first half of the year.
"Maybe. But I won Roland Garros two weeks ago. I don't forget," the Mallorcan smirked.
"Gilles is a very dangerous player. He has a very good serve, good volley. He's especially a very dangerous player on this kind of surface."
American Sweeting, the world number 69, "was beaten fairly badly" in his own words by Nadal at the Australian Open and Indian Wells this year.
His attempts to put up a better fight floundered so much that he was forced to try to rally the crowd with his hands when he finally won a game to make it 1-4 in the second set.
He hung on bravely but the gulf in class was vast, especially when Sweeting tried to target Nadal's backhand but the world number one simply ran round the ball and fire off another unstoppable forehand in trademark fashion.
The break in the first set came at 3-1 and Nadal sealed the set to love with a rasping wide ace in front of a less than full Center Court, although Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, had braved the drizzle outside to make it.
A clipped net cord, one of a host of unforced errors from the American, gifted Nadal the early advantage in the second set which he claimed with three aces in the deciding game.
The third set was move even but the ladies chomping strawberries in the stands knew the end was nigh and an imperious Nadal clinched victory to a cascade of applause.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)