Rafael Nadal was relentlessly brilliant on Friday night showing Alex de Minaur just what it takes to rise to the top of the ATP Rankings in a brutal examination of the 19-year-old’s game at the Australian Open.
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.
The 32-year-old, who is through to the fourth round for the 12th time overall, will next challenge Czech Tomas Berdych, who is coming back to top form and 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.
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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).
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).