Nadal’s Saturday surge sets up Fognini clash

  • Alex Sharp

A ruthless Rafael Nadal continues to rip through the draw at Australian Open 2021.  

MORE: All the scores from Day 6 at AO 2021

The Spaniard’s quest for a men’s record-breaking 21st Grand Slam trophy is gaining some serious momentum, courtesy of a 7-5 6-2 7-5 passage past Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie on Saturday night.  

AO 2009 champion Nadal surges into the second week to face flamboyant 16th seed Fabio Fognini in the fourth round.   

“He came in having won a couple of very good matches, so I knew it was going to be very tough,” the No.2 seed said of Norrie. 

“I didn’t convert chances I had early in the sets, so the situation became a little bit more difficult,” he added, finishing with 5/12 break point conversions.  

“Of course, playing against the best players in the world, not taking your chances, you’re going to suffer a bit. Very happy, good feelings and I need to keep improving. I’m in the second week and that’s the main thing for me right now.”  

The world No.2 had not lost to a fellow left-handed player since falling to Denis Shapovalov at the 2017 Montreal Masters.   

It was a pretty devastating start off the racquet of Nadal. The Spaniard set the tone, clattering a statement offside forehand winner down the line to help prize open a break chance.  

World No.69 Norrie kept finding the angles and fended off those early chances, managing to outlast Nadal in some riveting rallies, drawing the ball corner to corner.   

Norrie, seeking his first major second-week ticket, was rewarded with a 3-2 break. However, with all his champion credentials, Nadal fizzed over some sparkling shots to break back to love. The 34-year-old flexed the forehand bicep in his trademark celebration, so much intensity for just the sixth game.   

Nadal knew it was crucial to wrestle back the initiative quickly, and he did just that.  

A low-trajectory, flat backhand from the Brit was still causing Nadal trouble and Norrie managed to push towards a tiebreak. At 6-5 Nadal sensed a chance, twisting the world No.69 from side to side, drawing the errors to steal away the opener.   

Given the 20-time Grand Slam champion holds a 58-1 record at Melbourne Park having taken the first set, it was a long road back for Norrie.  

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Norrie fought gamely in the first set, but the writing was on the wall

The Brit punched a stunning forehand passing shot down the line, prompting a “bravo” from Nadal.  

However, the sustained pressure from the second seed began to tell, Norrie having to persistently fend off break opportunities.   

Nadal, absorbing, redirecting and unloading, was teasing Norrie to increasingly go for broke. It needed a moment of pure magic from the world No.2. A monster forehand, hooking the side of the ball from outside the tramlines, pinged down the line for a crucial 4-2 lead.   

There was no shying away from Norrie, who buckled down, but at 6-5, again Nadal pounced, catapulting his 33rd winner, another booming forehand to gain match point.  

Having closed out victory, Nadal had already seen on the scoreboard he’ll face Fognini in the last 16. The Italian commanded proceedings 6-4 6-3 6-4 to overcome Australia’s leading light Alex de Minaur.  

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Nadal knows Fognini is capable of springing an upset

The world No.17 has four wins to his name against Nadal (4-12 record), including a blockbuster US Open comeback from two sets down in 2015.  

“We’ve played a lot of times and he’s beaten me a couple of times. He’s come here after an injury, so he will be hungry to do well,” stated the Spaniard.  

“That’s a very impressive victory against de Minaur, in straight sets. So he will come to our match with plenty of confidence, and of course you never expect an easy match at this stage. I need to be ready.”