Rafael Nadal continues to shift up the gears at Australian Open 2021.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion showcased his full repertoire to outmanoeuvre American qualifier Michael Mmoh 6-1 6-4 6-2 on Thursday night.
MORE: All the scores from Day 4 at AO 2021
The hot shots were firing as the world No.2 booked a 15th ticket into the third round at Melbourne Park, where he will meet world No.69 Cameron Norrie.
“I did things well, things that of course I could do better but happy for the victory. The goal was done today,” declared the 34-year-old, with no signs of the stiff back which troubled his preparations.
“I think tonight has been a very positive evening for me, winning in straight sets and great news for everything. For me, just to focus, to try to be ready for what’s next, which is going to be more difficult.”
Wearing a tight vest, the American’s arm muscles were popping, in a similar look to when Nadal burst onto the scene in the mid 2000s.
Mmoh, attempting to reach a major third round for the first time, was also realigning his drinks bottles in ultra-precision, just like the superstitions of Nadal. However, the American couldn’t quite replicate Nadal’s level on the court.
The world No.2 has never lost to a qualifier at Melbourne Park, and that rarely looked under threat on Rod Laver Arena.
Nadal was firing forehands that even looked fast in slow-motion replays, brutally efficient in the opening exchanges.
Mmoh’s rally ball was popping up and AO 2009 champion Nadal blazed away an inside out forehand winner for a 3-1 break lead.
The second seed was enjoying plenty of time to prepare to strike, motoring to a set and 4-2 break lead.
The perfectionist inside Nadal surfaced at 6-1 5-3, a routine forehand looping just long, then the 34-year-old lifted his arms in frustration. The demands of a 20-time major champion.
His general standard remained impeccable.
The world No.177 kept his head down and produced three sublime points to switch a break into a hold, finishing with a real Mmoh-ment of magic with a last-ditch serve and pick up volley winner.
It was Nadal’s turn to dazzle, lasering a backhand onto the baseline to curtail a grueling 23-shot rally.
Then Mmoh’s overhead was tracked down by Nadal, who connected with a head-height passing shot. The second seed trotted across the court in a sign of real contentment, whilst the American simply had to smile.
“Of course, when I was younger I was able to run everywhere, now I need to have better shots,” quipped Nadal.
“The backhand is an important shot for me. When I’m playing well, the court opens up for me, I can produce angles with the forehand. When the backhand is working well, I play much better.”
It was a piece of genius which chalked up the decisive break, Nadal closing out a statement straight-sets triumph.
Unfortunately for the legion of Nadal fans worldwide, his back continues to trouble him.
“No, not under control, honestly. No, I am keep doing the things that I can. If you see my motion on the serve is different than what I would like,” added Nadal, who still struck seven aces and landed 76 per cent of first deliveries. “But I am trying to find solutions every day. I just keep fighting for find a solution.
“We are doing everything possible to try to be better. So still alive, still hope to be better and to try to be competitive. Let's see. Gonna be a good test against Norrie.”
Nadal has never faced the fellow left-handed Brit, and is wary after Norrie dispatched last week’s Murray River Open champion Dan Evans in the first round.
“He came to the tournament winning the week before, so Norrie was able to beat him. Lefty. Good player. He has experience on the tour already.
“Gonna be the toughest test, without a doubt. I need to be playing at high level if I want to keep having chances to be through. And I am looking forward to try to make that happen.”