© Peter Staples/ATP Tour

Rafael Nadal is chasing a second Australian Open title.

Nadal Blunts Hanfmann Attack To Reach R3

With significant improvement still left in his game, Rafael Nadal is through to the third round of the Australian Open without dropping a set following Wednesday's 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 win over German qualifier Yannick Hanfmann.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion, playing just his second tournament since mid-August, did not need to move into top gear to get the job done against the World No. 126, who did use his heavy groundstrokes to win some skirmishes, without ever looking likely to win the larger battle.

“Having played him before at Roland Garros I knew that he is dangerous,” Nadal said after the two hour, 42-minute result. “His result against Thanasi [Kokkinakis] in the first round says that he is playing great and coming from the qualies he was used to the courts. He has big shots, a good serve and has a lot of potential. Today his level was much higher than his ranking says.”

Planning for his next match against Olympic silver medallist Karen Khachanov or Benjamin Bonzi, Nadal will look to improve his break point ratio (4/16 against Hanfmann) and eliminate some uncharacteristic unforced forehand errors. He is now 5-0 on the season after winning his 89th title at the Melbourne Summer Set, but is yet to be tested by a Top-50 opponent.

"As I said before the tournament, things are not going to be perfect, but every day that I spend on court, the chances to play better a higher," Nadal said later in his press conference. "Things that I can improve I have to improve. Winning today allows me to practice again tomorrow, to be ready for another match. After two matches it's the moment to make a step forward."

Hanfmann's aggressive game plan was to hit hard and flat through the court and to sneak into the net when he stretched the Spaniard wide into the court. When he could position himself close to the baseline, his heavy, clean ball striking resulted in several clean winners, with his crosscourt backhand to Nadal’s forehand proving effective at times.

Nadal, who has occupied a place in the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings for 852 consecutive weeks, countered by using his heavy topspin off both wings to keep the German pinned deep behind the baseline as much as he could. He also exploited the 30-year-old's mobility side to side and had success with his beloved Serve +1 pattern, helped by a first serve that was significantly faster than in 2021. Through the first two sets, Nadal was forced to hit a backhand as his first shot after serving just twice.

Hanfmann claimed his first Grand Slam match win in the first round Monday when he stunned Adelaide International 2 champion Thanasi Kokkinakis.

Nadal improved to 71-15 at the year's first major. Only Roger Federer (102) and Novak Djokovic (82) have more wins at Melbourne Park.

The Spaniard this fortnight is bidding to become the second player in the Open Era after Djokovic to win all majors at least twice. But the bigger milestone is a potential record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title to break the current three-way tie with Federer and Djokovic.

Last year Nadal reached the quarter-finals in Melbourne, falling to Stefanos Tsitsipas in five sets after winning the first two. That remains just the second time in his career that Nadal has lost a match after leading by two sets (also Fognini, 2015 US Open).

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