That time is a testament to Nadal’s desire to shorten the points here at Melbourne Park in 2019, minimising the impact on his body having withdrawn or retired from 16 of his last 17 hard-court tournaments over the past 18 months.
He has now spent 10 hours and 25 minutes on court through the first five rounds, some three hours and 15 minutes less than he spent on court at Melbourne Park in 2018 before his retirement against Marin Cilic at the same stage last year.
“I’ve been practicing during the whole off-season the serve and first shot, and during this event I’ve probably done it more times than ever – serve and winner with the first forehand,” admitted Nadal, who hit 13 of his 29 winners off his dominant wing.
“That’s something that is very important for me, both today and if I want to keep playing for a few years. That gives me a lot of free points, and that’s so important at this stage of my career.”
Another Nadal break followed at the start of the second set, but Tiafoe rallied to bring up a break-back point at 2-1 down at the end of a lung-burning 20-shot rally that dragged both players from tramline to tramline. Nadal averted the danger with a big serve, and played his way out of trouble when the American fashioned a second at deuce to move 3-1 ahead.
A vintage forehand winner from way outside the court helped Nadal to a 3-2 lead, and with that the damage was done. Tiafoe couldn’t fashion another opening on the Nadal serve, and with another couple of breaks in the decider the 32-year-old finished at a canter, adding the American’s scalp to that of Alex De Minaur ahead of his clash with a third up-and-comer in Tsitsipas.