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.