Nadal Relentless In Pursuit Of 250th Major Match Win
Spanish superstar to face Berdych in the Last 16
Second seed Nadal, the 2009 champion and three-time runner-up at Melbourne Park, recorded the 250th Grand Slam championship match win of his career (250-36) with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 victory over De Minaur in two hours and 22 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.
“I believe that I played a solid match [and] I played a good level of tennis, hitting a lot of good spots, especially during the first two sets,” said Nadal. “I know he's dangerous. He's super quick. He likes to go inside the court fast. [So] I tried to not give him many chances on that.
“Then my serve worked well. I felt more dynamic with my movement tonight, every day a little bit better, in my opinion… Everything is a step forward. So that's positive news for me. I'm very happy for the victory because at the end of the day I won 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 against a player that he was winning seven matches in a row, winning a tournament.”
The 32-year-old, who is through to the fourth round for the 12th time overall, will next challenge Czech Tomas Berdych, who reached the Qatar ExxonMobil Open final (l. to Bautista Agut) in the first week of 2019. Nadal leads 2014-2015 Australian Open semi-finalist Berdych 19-4 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, with their last match coming almost four years ago in May 2015 at the Mutua Madrid Open.
Nadal stared down one break point in his opening service game, then, thereafter, moved De Minaur around the court with deep and powerful groundstrokes to 6-1, 5-2, when the Spanish star gave the Australian a glimmer of hope.
Three break points came and went for De Minaur, who was contesting his 11th match of a fine start to the season. Through two sets Nadal, rarely let up on his intense, explosive game, and had hit 26 winners.
Nadal, who is playing in his first tournament since September 2018, broke in the first game of a competitive third set, which saw De Minaur keep in touch with wrong-footing groundstrokes and a change-up in tactics. But, ultimately, Nadal proved too strong, using his heavy topspin forehand to dictate play in their second encounter (which he won 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 at 2018 Wimbledon).
“I got better as the match went on,” said De Minaur. “Obviously, I'm a little bit disappointed that I wasn't able to perform a little bit better. But that's just what Rafa does to you… You've got to be able to go out there and perform your game plan and execute… I felt like I wasn't able to do that today. I fought till the end.”
When asked about the atmosphere on Rod Laver Arena, De Minaur admitted, “It’s things you dream of. This is why you play the sport. My first time playing on Rod Laver. I was able to share the court with someone like Rafa. That's a pretty surreal experience once you sit down and think about it. The crowd support that I've had pretty much the whole way has been insane. At the later stages of that match, it was quite deafening. It was pretty cool. Gave me goose bumps. I'll do everything in my power to keep improving, and hopefully get many more chances to play on that court.”
Nadal, a 17-time major champion, is bidding to become the first man in the Open Era (since April 1968) – and only the third man in history – to win each of the four Grand Slam championship singles trophies twice. Australians Roy Emerson and Rod Laver are the only players to have won each major on two or more occasions.
De Minaur, currently at a career-high No. 29 in the ATP Rankings, captured his first ATP Tour crown last week at the Sydney International (d. Seppi). The 2018 ATP Newcomer of the Year also reached the Brisbane International quarter-finals (l. to Tsonga).
“It's been a great [Australian] summer,” said De Minaur. “I'm just really proud of the whole work that the whole team has put in... The body was good. I felt great. Obviously, I've played a lot of matches this summer. But my body's used to it. That's why I put the hard work in the pre-season for. Obviously, I would love to be as physically fit as Rafa. That's the next step. But still, the body was feeling good. It was just about match-ups today, Rafa being Rafa.”