Rafa Nadal subdued Alex de Minaur 6-1 6-2 6-4 in their third round clash at the Australian Open on Friday after dominating the home town’s top-ranked male player.
The second seed comfortably controlled baseline exchanges, forcing the young Australian to take ever greater risks to compete with the 17 times Grand Slam champion.
“I tried to make him feel that my ball was good enough that he was not (in) control of the point – almost never,” Nadal said.
The Spaniard has won three consecutive straight sets matches against Australians, and will play Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych in the fourth round.
Alarm bells started ringing at the packed centre court almost as soon as the Friday match started.
Nadal held his service game easily, while de Minaur needed 16 points to hold serve, raising immediate questions over whether the young Australian could keep up with his Spanish opponent.
It was the only game de Minaur won that set.
Nadal, who later described his opponent as probably the quickest player on tour, exerted similar pressure in the first game of the second set. This time he broke de Minaur’s serve after a marathon 20-point game.
With superior firepower on his ground strokes, Nadal could take control of baseline exchanges without taking too many risks.
De Minaur tried to lift his tempo to prevent being bullied around the court – a tactic that naturally carries more risk, and one that he could not successfully sustain.
A packed centre court stadium tried desperately to encourage their charge, but the 19-year-old had his work cut-out trying to hold his own service games, let alone pressure Nadal on his.
“If I could have just held on a little bit more with my serve, applied a bit more pressure early on in the sets, then maybe I could have got… more chances on his serve,” de Minaur said.
De Minaur saved five match points before succumbing in an identical scoreline to the pair’s third round Wimbledon match-up last year.
Although mainly known for his aggressive ground game, Nadal recorded a very high first serve percentage (75), leaving his opponent very few opportunities.
The strong serving display also sounded a timely warning to the rest of the field that Nadal is a bona fide contender for the title despite coming into the tournament under an injury cloud.
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are both searching for a record seventh Australian Open title in Melbourne, while a younger generation led by Germany’s Alexander Zverev are looking to unseat the aging champions.
Roger Federer marks 100th match on Rod Laver Arena with three-set win
Roger Federer celebrated his 100th match at the Australian Open on Friday by giving young American Taylor Fritz a centre court schooling to reach the last 16 and set up a mouthwatering clash with ‘Next Gen’ champion Stefanos Tsitsipas. Chasing a record seventh Melbourne title and his third in succession, the 37-year-old Swiss has been in ominous form at the year’s first Grand Slam and his 6-2 7-5 6-2 masterclass at Rod Laver Arena was another warning to the Tour’s upstarts.
Fritz, 21, was meant to offer Federer a meaningful test with his prodigious serve and powerful ground-strokes but was instead sent packing after less than 90 minutes. Third seed Federer tied the American in knots with a sumptuous array of drop shots, angled volleys and winners conjured seemingly at will from behind the baseline.
Fans hoping for change at the top of men’s tennis will look to Greek trailblazer Tsitsipas to give Federer a better shake. The shaggy-haired 20-year-old, who capped a breakout season by claiming the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan in December, has ridden a wave of support from Melbourne’s huge Greek community at the tournament.
Federer has his own army of fans at Melbourne Park, however, and they hung on his every word as he delivered words of encouragement to the young pretenders seeking to knock him off the perch. “They’re doing great, what do you want me to tell you?” he told Jim Courier in his on-court interview.
“We all want them to win the big stuff but it just takes time … I’m still giving them a hard time sometimes.” Federer has reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam for a record-extending 63rd time in the professional era and may still be the best equipped player to deny top seed Novak Djokovic from claiming a third Grand Slam title in succession.
Citing Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey, who won an Olympic silver at 40 and continued to run into her fifties, a reporter asked Federer whether his best might still be to come. “No, I don’t think so,” he said bluntly.
“I think the last 10 years have been a lot of fun, maybe more fun than the first 10, I’m not sure. “But yeah, I don’t think with four children and with the career that I have had and my body, I want it to be somewhat healthy — and healthy actually when I retire.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, you know, to be quite honest.”
Cilic survives after Verdasco double-faults on match point
A relieved Marin Cilic squeezed into the fourth round of the Australian Open in the early hours of Saturday after Fernando Verdasco double-faulted on match point to allow the sixth seed to complete an epic comeback win.
Beaten by Roger Federer in last year’s final, Cilic was pushed to the brink by Spanish veteran Verdasco who had the Croat on the ropes in the fourth set tiebreak.
But having fired 27 aces, Verdasco’s serve let him down at the crucial moment, and he fell 4-6 3-6 6-1 7-6(8) 6-3 after a four-hour 18-minute classic at Margaret Court Arena.
“Thanks for sticking around, it was definitely a tough match, unbelievable,” Cilic told the crowd in his on-court interview.
“It was a big hill to climb… I’m just putting myself in a hole and let’s see what I’m going to do.”
In the nerve-jangling tiebreak, former U.S. Open champion Cilic saved a match point with a huge serve into the corner but was at the mercy of Verdasco’s serve on the second.
The 35-year-old Spaniard clipped the net cord on his second serve effort, though, leaving him wide-eyed in shock and grabbing at his hair.
Cilic fired a backhand winner down the line to bring up set point and then blasted a forehand past his shattered opponent to take the match into a fifth.
“It was definitely a tough tiebreak,” said Cilic.
“It came down to one shot, or basically one decision. I was a little bit lucky on that net cord.
“Today I was just slightly luckier in those crucial moments.”
Former semi-finalist Verdasco slumped in his chair and stewed over the near-miss, muttering darkly in Spanish before receiving a code violation for failing to restart the deciding set quickly enough.
He was promptly broken and fell 4-1 behind but further heartbreak was to come.
Cilic double-faulted twice to give Verdasco three break points at 4-2 but the Croat slammed the door shut by winning the next five points.
Riding the support of Melbourne’s large Croatian community, Cilic sealed the win on his first match point when Verdasco hammered a forehand into the net.
Given a stinging lesson in the virtues of clinical tennis, Verdasco exited the stadium quickly and with head bowed.
Cilic will meet another Spaniard for a place in the quarter-finals when he faces 22nd seed Roberto Bautista Agut, the man who knocked injured Andy Murray out of the first round.
Tiafoe rips into fourth round with LeBron James-inspired celebration
Young American Frances Tiafoe has attributed his entertaining post-match celebrations to basketballer LeBron James after extending his stellar run at the Australian Open with a 6-7(3) 6-3 4-6 6-4 6-3 third round victory against Italian veteran Andreas Seppi on Friday.
Tiafoe, who turns 21 on Sunday, has become a crowd favourite in Australia because of his shirt-ripping, fist-pumping routines which he said are spontaneous, but inspired by the basketball great.
“Just try to bring something in tennis,” he said.
“Obviously you guys know I’m a big basketball fan. Love the team celebrations.”
Asked by reporters after his match what he liked about the Los Angeles Lakers star, Tiafoe responded: “What don’t you like about LeBron?”
Brimming with confidence after dispatching fifth seed Kevin Anderson in the second round, Tiafoe came from two sets to one down on Friday in his best ever Grand Slam run.
After unleashing a forehand winner down the line to seal the win, he tore off his shirt, pounded his chest and yelled “Yeah!” at the terraces.
He went back to his chair, pounded it with his hands like a drum before sitting down to soak up the moment as fans chanted his name.
“I love playing in big stages, I always play well,” Tiafoe said.
“Now I just kind of thrive for those moments, I want those moments.”
He will play Grigor Dimitrov, seeded 20, in the fourth round.
Tiafoe is the last American man standing in the singles draw in an otherwise disappointing tournament for U.S. men’s tennis.
However, the first major of the year does show the country has some fast-emerging talents after 17-year-old Amanda Anisimova stunned 11th seed Aryna Sabalenka to storm into the fourth round.