Never mind the tennis, there was only one thing Rafael Nadal cared about after he completed a hat-trick of straight-set wins to reach the fourth round of Wimbledon on Saturday.
“I’ll go and watch some football. What’s going on? – England, it’s coming home or not?” asked the sweat-drenched Spaniard with a grin moments after handing baby-faced Australian Alex de Minaur a 6-1 6-2 6-4 roasting.
The Alicante-based 19-year-old played his part in an entertaining duel as he chased after everything Nadal could throw at him – and in turn kept the Spaniard on Centre Court longer than he would have liked.
But the world number one, chasing a third title at the All England Club, stuck to his own game plan to ensure he reached the second week of the grasscourt major without dropping a set.
Nadal has endured his fair share of losing to young upstarts at Wimbledon, having lost to players ranked 100 or lower in four of his five previous appearances, but there was no danger of that happening on Saturday.
His main target appeared to be getting off court before the 3pm local time kickoff of England’s World Cup quarter-final showdown with Sweden.
De Minaur made him play 26-minutes of extra time but the final result was never in doubt and a lunging volley winner sealed the win – and prompted a mass exodus from Centre Court as fans rushed to watch the football on their phones and tablets elsewhere in the grounds. England won 2-0.
“A positive match against a player who is very young with a lot of energy, some tough moments in the beginning. Some tough moments in the third but happy to be through,” said Nadal, whose win also ensured that he would retain the number one ranking at the end of the tournament.
“(I have played) three matches, ever match has been more and more postive. I’m looking forward to keep playing well.”
The 17-times Grand Slam champion won the opening set in 33 minutes, and it would have been much quicker had he not needed five break points in a 12-minute fourth game to break the Wimbledon debutant for a 3-1 lead.
Nadal was at his brutal best in the second set as he did not drop any points on serve until the final game.
There he chased down a De Minaur lob to the baseline and with his back to the net, swiped the ball between his legs to lob the Australian. But the teenager tracked the ball as it sailed over his head, made a u-turn as he, too, dashed to the baseline to repeat the between-the-legs shot – only to see his effort get tangled at the bottom of the net.
The trickshot exchange gave De Minaur reason to believe he could trouble Nadal and so it proved to be as he earned two break points just moments later – only to see both disappear and Nadal seal a two-set lead thanks to a backhand error from the Australian.
Whereas Nadal had trouble reading Mikhail Kukushkin’s formidable forehand just two days ago, on Saturday he was seeing the ball like a football and rattled off 30 winners, including eight volleys.
The Spaniard will next play Jiri Vesely from the Czech Republic as he bids to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals for the first time since finishing runner-up to Novak Djokovic in 2011.
Veteran Gulbis upsets fourth seed Zverev in five sets
Former world number 10 Ernests Gulbis became the first qualifier to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon since Brian Baker in 2012 when he upset fourth seed Alexander Zverev 7-6(2) 4-6 5-7 6-3 6-0 on Saturday.
The 29-year-old Latvian, a one-time training partner of Zverev’s brother Mischa, handed the young German a lesson in perseverance and solid shot-making to reach the fourth round for the first time after 11 attempts.
“I hope I have another four to five years in me so you will still see me around,” said Gulbis, who had only won one tour level match all year — in the first round of the French Open — and was ranked 138 after struggling with injuries.
“Not a lot of players qualify for Paris and Wimbledon,” added Gulbis, who reached his highest ranking of 10 in 2014, by way of explanation for his form in London.
Zverev, who won a five setter against American Taylor Fritz from 2-1 down in the previous round, failed to improve on his best at Wimbledon last year when he also went out in the third round.
The 21-year-old German had the better of an even opening set that went with serve but Gulbis turned the tables in the tiebreak to take it 7-2.
Zverev came back in the next two sets but when it looked like Gulbis would not last the pace, he broke to go 4-2 up in the fourth and took the wind out of his opponent’s sails.
Gulbis won the final set to love in a denouement reminiscent of Zverev’s five set defeat by South Korean Hyeon Chung in the third round of the Australian Open where he also suffered a fifth-set bagel.
Djokovic hits back to take out home hope Edmund
Three-time champion Novak Djokovic silenced a raucous Centre Court crowd as he came back to beat home favourite Kyle Edmund 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-4 in the third round of Wimbledon on Saturday.
Edmund appeared to be riding a wave of euphoria generated by England’s World Cup quarter-final win against Sweden as he outplayed the Serbian former world number one in the first set.
But Djokovic snapped out of his torpor and took charge once he broke in a marathon seventh game of the second set.
He dominated the third set and although 21st seed Edmund was competitive again in the fourth, Djokovic broke at 4-4 and then clinically held serve for victory — applying the seal on an impressive display with an ace down the middle.
The Serb, seeded 12th, will face powerful Russian youngster Karen Khachanov for a place in the quarter-finals.
Japan’s Nishikori beats out-of-sorts Kyrgios to reach last 16
Japan’s Kei Nishikori equalled his best run at Wimbledon when the number 24 seed reached the fourth round with a 6-1 7-6(3) 6-4 win over Australian Nick Kyrgios on Court One on Saturday.
The former world number four, looking for a first Grand Slam title having been U.S. Open runner-up in 2014, blasted Kyrgios off court as he raced through the first set in 16 minutes.
The volatile Kyrgios, seeded 15, went toe-to-toe with Nishikori in the second set but lost the tiebreak after receiving a code violation for blasting the ball out of court in frustration after he hit a return out to go 6-3 down.
Still annoyed at himself, the Australian next fired a return straight at Nishikori and watched as the ball came back off his opponent’s racket and in to hand the set to the Japanese.
Kyrgios blew hot and cold in the third, at times serving and volleying brilliantly though playing poorly against the serve.
It took Nishikori four match points to seal the win, having gone 40-0 up on the Kyrgios serve before being pegged back to deuce, when he fashioned a fine lob over the Australian.
“He played well… He returned really well,” Kyrgios said of Nishikori. “Most guys aren’t getting a racket or putting balls back in off my serve most of the time. He was returning well.”
The feisty Australian said he never managed to settle. “I was trying to loosen up, I was pretty uptight. “Obviously getting broken first game didn’t help me. I just kind of panicked. Everything kind of just went south, I guess. My footwork was terrible. Just a bad day, I guess.”
Nishikori faces qualifier Ernests Gulbis in the fourth round.