Nadal Beats De Minaur, Guarantees Grip On No. 1 ATP Ranking
Rafael Nadal guaranteed that he will remain atop the ATP Rankings when the next standings are published on 16 July thanks to a comprehensive 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 victory against #NextGenATP Aussie Alex de Minaur on Saturday, reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon for the eighth time.
"Of course, I prefer to be No. 1 than No. 2, [there is] no doubt about this," Nadal said. "But I really didn't come here to hold No. 1. I just came here to try to do the best tournament possible. Of course, it's very positive to be in the second week, winning three matches. That's it. [I'm] just happy the way that I played during the first week."
The left-handed 32-year-old is into the Round of 16 on the hallowed grass for the second consecutive year and the third time in his four most recent appearances. But now Nadal, who has made five finals at the third Grand Slam of the season (2006-08, 10-11), will attempt to advance to the quarter-finals for the first time since 2011.
The two-time champion will next face Czech left-hander Jiri Vesely, who ousted No. 19 seed Fabio Fognini 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. The Spaniard beat Vesely in their only previous encounter in Hamburg three years ago.
While Nadal was in devastating form at Roland Garros, where he lifted his 11th Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy, it was tough to tell exactly how well the No. 2 seed would adjust to the lawns of Wimbledon, given he did not compete in a grass-court event ahead of The Championships. Instead, Nadal opted to recover from a 26-1, four-title clay-court season to best prepare for the rest of the campaign.
But the second seed has shown no rust, winning all nine of his sets thus far by a margin of 6-4 or greater. And while De Minaur battled until the last point — showing the trademark grit of his mentor, former World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt — Nadal won 75 per cent of his service points en route to the victory.
"I think he's avery energetic player," Nadal said. "[He's] very quick. I think he likes to play on this surface. His style of game probably works well for this surface in the future."
De Minaur, the World No. 80 who cracked the Top 100 for the first time on 11 June, showed his promise with a nice mix of defence and shotmaking with his flat groundstrokes against Nadal. But the Spaniard's pressure was unrelenting, especially with the forehand, remaining on the baseline to answer every question the Aussie's tennis asked of him. Perhaps De Minaur's third service game of the third set serves as a microcosm of the match — the teenager fought off a break point, but Nadal took advantage of his next opportunity with an emphatic return winner.
"It was definitely something special, being able to play on Centre Court against Rafa, that's something that I will remember forever," De Minaur said. "I've got to work harder, get better, and hopefully next time I get the same opportunity I can push him harder."
Nadal leads defending champion Roger Federer by 50 points in the rankings. And since he matched his performance from last year at SW19 by advancing to the Round of 16, and Federer cannot gain any more points, the Spaniard will remain ahead of the Swiss.
His next opponent, Vesely, saved 13 of the 14 break points he faced to defeat a talented shotmaker in Fognini. The World No. 93 had not beaten a Top 20 opponent since the second week of the season at the ASB Classic, where he snuck by then-No. 13 Sam Querrey in a third-set tie-break.
Vesely, a former junior No. 1, will look to earn his second victory against a World No. 1 when he faces Nadal. The 24-year-old upset Novak Djokovic at the 2016 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, the best triumph of his career. Vesely also took out World No. 11 Diego Schwartzman earlier this week.