MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal subdued Alex de Minaur 6-1 6-2 6-4 in their third round clash at the Australian Open on Friday after dominating the home town’s top-ranked male player.
The second seed comfortably controlled baseline exchanges, forcing the young Australian to take ever greater risks to compete with the 17 times Grand Slam champion.
“I tried to make him feel that my ball was good enough that he was not (in) control of the point - almost never,” Nadal said.
The Spaniard has won three consecutive straight sets matches against Australians, and will play Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych in the fourth round.
Alarm bells started ringing at the packed center court almost as soon as the Friday match started.
Nadal held his service game easily, while de Minaur needed 16 points to hold serve, raising immediate questions over whether the young Australian could keep up with his Spanish opponent.
It was the only game de Minaur won that set.
Nadal, who later described his opponent as probably the quickest player on tour, exerted similar pressure in the first game of the second set. This time he broke de Minaur’s serve after a marathon 20-point game.
With superior firepower on his ground strokes, Nadal could take control of baseline exchanges without taking too many risks.
De Minaur tried to lift his tempo to prevent being bullied around the court - a tactic that naturally carries more risk, and one that he could not successfully sustain.
A packed center court stadium tried desperately to encourage their charge, but the 19-year-old had his work cut-out trying to hold his own service games, let alone pressure Nadal on his.
“If I could have just held on a little bit more with my serve, applied a bit more pressure early on in the sets, then maybe I could have got... more chances on his serve,” de Minaur said.
De Minaur saved five match points before succumbing in an identical scoreline to the pair’s third round Wimbledon match-up last year.
Although mainly known for his aggressive ground game, Nadal recorded a very high first serve percentage (75), leaving his opponent very few opportunities.
The strong serving display also sounded a timely warning to the rest of the field that Nadal is a bona fide contender for the title despite coming into the tournament under an injury cloud.
Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are both searching for a record seventh Australian Open title in Melbourne, while a younger generation led by Germany’s Alexander Zverev are looking to unseat the aging champions.
Editing by Toby Davis