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Nadal shows De Minaur no mercy

  • Matt Trollope

Rafael Nadal delivered a commanding performance on Friday night at Rod Laver Arena, relinquishing just seven games to beat Alex de Minaur and seal a place in the fourth round.

The second seed beat the Australian 6-1 6-2 6-4 in what was an overwhelming display of power and relentlessness from the 17-time Grand Slam champion.

This was their second meeting after clashing at the same stage of Wimbledon six month ago, Nadal winning that match by an identical scoreline. 

"In general terms, everything is a step forward," Nadal said.

"I'm very happy for the victory because at the end of the day I won 6-1 6-2 6-4 against a player that he was winning seven matches in a row, winning a tournament. He's young. He has that extra energy that the young guys have.

"I know he's dangerous. He's super quick. He likes to go inside the court fast. I tried to not give him many chances on that."

The opening and closing stages of Friday’s encounter, were, perhaps unsurprisingly, extremely competitive. These were two players with some of the fastest wheels and fiercest competitive drives in the game, after all.

De Minaur loves a big stage, and in his fledgling career has shown a distinct ability to elevate his game when playing on home soil.

And first three games were an intense reflection of that, with De Minaur surviving four break points in a game that extended to five deuces and showing positive body language when he held for 1-1.

Alex de Minaur
De Minaur never stopped working, but never had the tools to challenge the No.2 seed

In the next game the young Aussie thought he’d snared a resounding break of serve when a Nadal groundstroke was called long.

Yet Nadal challenged, the ball was in, the point was replayed, and De Minaur never really came close again – until the end. But more on that later.

The Spaniard held serve in that third game, the first of seven consecutive games that saw him build a 6-1 2-0 lead.

It was a run that determined the tone for much of the match; the 19-year-old was always going to fight like hell and track down every ball he could, and occasionally strike some bold winners of his own, but he was deficient in power, presence, endurance and consistency.

Nadal bullocked his way to a two-sets-to-love lead and broke immediately in the third. At 6-1 6-2 2-0, the scoreboard did not make for pretty reading.

De Minaur, however, never became despondent, and never stopped fighting. And it was his persistence deep in the third set that contributed to some of the best tennis of the match.

He brought up game point – and later went on to hold, to maintain some semblance of scoreboard pressure – thanks to an enthralling rally showcasing his speed and ability to generate incredible pace on the run.

And in the final game, after Nadal crushed two forehand winners to reach 40-0 and three match points, De Minaur saved them all, rousing the crowd. He would go on to save five with some of the most compelling tennis of the night, before Nadal finally clinched victory when De Minaur fired a forehand long.

The Spaniard may have dropped just seven games, but he was forced to toil on court for two hours and 22 minutes to progress.

"I got better as the match went on," De Minaur said.

"I've had a great Aussie summer. I'm really proud of the effort I put in. I played some great tennis. 

"Obviously I'm a little bit disappointed that I wasn't able to perform a little bit better. But, you know, that's just what Rafa does to you. You've got to go out there and pretty much redline."

After swatting aside three Australians – James Duckworth, Matt Ebden and De Minaur – to arrive at this point, Nadal next takes on resurgent former world No.4 Tomas Berdych, who won their most recent meeting at Melbourne Park four years ago.

"I know I have to play aggressive. I know I have to play with the right determination, even if is Alex, even if is Tomas," Nadal said.

"But every day's a test. Maybe every day tougher. I have to be ready for it."