Melbourne: World number two Rafael Nadal accelerated his pursuit of a record 21st Grand Slam title Saturday with a testing victory over Cameron Norrie in an Australian Open battle of the left-handers.
The Spanish second seed has altered his service motion due to lower-back tightness, but it didn’t stop him emphatically demolishing his first two opponents in straight sets.
Britain’s 69th-ranked Norrie proved a tougher assignment, with Nadal pressed much harder before emerging a 7-5, 6-2, 7-5 winner in an empty Rod Laver Arena as Melbourne went into a five-day coronavirus lockdown.
It put him into a Slam last 16 for the 49th time, behind only Roger Federer (67) and Novak Djokovic (53).
“All the matches are tough... I didn’t convert the opportunities I had at the beginning of every set, so then the situation becomes a little bit more difficult,” he said.
“And then of course you are playing against the best players in the world, so it’s normal that you might suffer a bit. But happy now, good feelings. Of course I need to keep improving.”
Nadal, who next faces fiery Italian Fabio Fognini, who beat Australian Alex de Minaur in straight sets, is bidding to win his 21st major title and claim sole ownership of the men’s record, which he currently shares with Federer.
Fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas put in a dominant performance, keeping things “clean and simple” to thrash Swede Mikael Ymer 6-4 6-1 6-1 and canter into the fourth round. The 22-year-olds were hitting partners during their mandatory 14-day quarantine after arriving Down Under. Conditions were not much different on Saturday, with no spectators allowed due to the five-day lockdown in Melbourne.
“Clean game. I think I kept things simple, didn’t complicate whatever tactics or whatever use of my game I wanted to execute today,” Tsitsipas told reporters.
World number one Ash Barty earlier overcame a stumbling start to reach the fourth round with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Ekaterina Alexandrova at an empty Margaret Court Arena on Saturday.
The 24-year-old would have expected the backing of a fiercely partisan crowd for a weekend evening match at her home Grand Slam, but Melbourne’s five-day lockdown left her playing in front of officials, ballkids and coaches.
While most other players have seen plenty of empty courts on the WTA tour over the last year, it was a new experience for Barty, who elected to stay home while the COVID-19 pandemic raged around the world.
“It’s very strange, I’ve never experienced it before in my life,” she said. “It changes the sound of the court. Bit rude but I like it. I love the crowd but I loved the sound of the ball.” The top seed was broken in her first service game but quickly rallied to take the first set when the Russian slapped the ball into the net for her 16th unforced error.
Barty was all over Alexandrova’s serve from the start, but some of her shot selection was questionable as she tried to finish off points, particularly some ill-judged lobs.
In full flow
Showing no signs of being hampered by her heavily strapped left thigh, the Australian battled back after being broken again in the second set and secured the victory with a fifth and final break of serve.
Barty said she had been happy with how effective her slice backhand had been, although she conceded that she possibly went to it too often.
“I’ve never played with her before and never hit with her before,” she said of her opponent.
“I just had to figure out where I wanted to place the ball and change my patterns, but I was happy with the run I was able to get on.” Barty, who is looking to become the first homegrown Australian Open singles champion since 1978, will play American Shelby Rogers for a place in the quarter-finals. (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, Editing by Peter Rutherford and Hugh Lawson )
Andrey Rublev (RUS x7) bt Feliciano Lopez (ESP) 7-5, 6-2, 6-3
Casper Ruud (NOR x24) bt Radu Albot (MDA) 6-1, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4
Mackenzie McDonald (USA) bt Lloyd Harris (RSA) 7-6 (9/7), 6-1, 6-4
Daniil Medvedev (RUS x4) bt Filip Krajinovic (SRB x28) 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 3-6, 6-0
Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE x5) bt Mikael Ymer (SWE) 6-4, 6-1, 6-1
Matteo Berrettini (ITA x9) bt Karen Khachanov (RUS x19) 7-6 (7/1), 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (7/5)
Ashleigh Barty (AUS x1) bt Ekaterina Alexandrova (RUS x29) 6-2, 6-4
Shelby Rogers (USA) bt Anett Kontaveit (EST x21) 6-4, 6-3
Elise Mertens (BEL x18) bt Belinda Bencic (SUI x11) 6-2, 6-1
Karolina Muchova (CZE x25) bt Karolina Pliskova (CZE x6) 7-5, 7-5
Donna Vekic (CRO x28) bt Kaia Kanepi (EST) 5-7, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4
Jennifer Brady (USA x22) bt Kaja Juvan (SLO) 6-1, 6-3
Jessica Pegula (USA) bt Kristina Mladenovic (FRA) 6-2, 6-1
Elina Svitolina (UKR x5) bt Yulia Putintseva (KAZ x26) 6-4, 6-0.