Impressive Nadal Sets Up De Minaur Clash In Melbourne
De Minaur survives Laaksonen fight back for third-round berth
Nadal served superbly, mixing up his service placement with his refined service motion, throughout the one-hour and 56-minute clash on Rod Laver Arena. The 249th match win of his career at Grand Slam championships (248-36), included hitting 33 winners and losing just 10 of his first-service points (43/53).
“It’s been a very positive victory for me [and] I am happy the way I played,” said Nadal. “I started a little bit slow, especially on the return side, and I think my serving was good from the beginning. Then I saved that game at 3-3. After that things changed. I think I play well.
“It’s a challenge every day. Today have been a very important step forward for me. The way that I played have been very positive, in my opinion. I am happy about the rest of the things.”
World No. 2 Nadal will next play #NextGenATP Australian Alex de Minaur, who reached the third round of a Grand Slam championship for the third consecutive time after he stifled a comeback from Swiss qualifier Henri Laaksonen 6-4, 6-2, 6-7(7), 4-6, 6-3 in three hours and 52 minutes during the night session. De Minaur held one match point at 7-6 in the third set tie-break.
“He’s a great player, young, playing with big confidence after winning matches,” said Nadal. “It will be tough one. I need to be ready for it… I think he has improved a lot over the past three years. Today, he is one of the best players in the world.”
Nadal leads De Minaur 1-0 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, having won their Wimbledon 2018 third-round encounter 6-1, 6-2, 6-4. Last week, 2018 Newcomer of the Year De Minaur won his first title in his third ATP Tour final at the Sydney International (d. Seppi).
"I'm obviously playing some great tennis," said De Minaur. "To be able to get all these wins under my belt definitely helps a lot, to build just that momentum and keep playing some good tennis day in, day out. Obviously against Rafa that's going to be something special.
"I got the chance to play him in Wimbledon on Centre Court. I feel like I learned a lot from that experience. I'm really looking forward to just having fun, going out there and just competing."
Ebden was comfortable on serve in the opening exchanges and at 3-3 held three break points on Nadal’s serve but was soon left to rue missing a backhand volley on top of the net on the second chance.
Now in the danger zone, Ebden fell under extreme pressure in his next service game and struck two double faults to be broken and Nadal went on to clinch the set, then break twice at 1-1 and 4-2 in the second set.
Nadal stepped inside the court to keep Ebden on the back foot to break for a 2-1 advantage in the third set, but a lapse in concentration meant the Spaniard let slip two chances for 4-1. When serving for the match at 5-2, Nadal faced one break point but wrapped up victory with a forehand winner. It was their second meeting, seven-and-a-half years on since first playing in June 2011 at the Fever-Tree Championships in London.
Nadal is playing at his first tournament since retiring against Juan Martin del Potro in the US Open semi-finals in September 2018. He underwent right ankle surgery in November and was unable to compete at the Brisbane International in the first week of this year due to a thigh strain.