MELBOURNE: Second seed Rafa Nadal overcame some stiff early resistance from Britain’s Cameron Norrie before easing into the fourth round of the Australian Open with a 7-5 6-2 7-5 victory yesterday.
After being heckled by a loud-mouthed fan in his previous round win against Michael Mmoh, Nadal enjoyed an incident-free evening in an empty Rod Laver Arena to reach the round of 16 at a Grand Slam for the 49th time in his career.
The 34-year-old Nadal, bidding to claim a record 21st Grand Slam title, will face Italian Fabio Fognini next.
Nadal won the opening six points, but 69th-ranked Norrie was not intimidated in his first meeting with the Spaniard and claimed the first break of the match to lead 3-2.
He was immediately broken to love though and folded at 5-6 to drop serve again and hand Nadal the first set in 48 minutes. Thereafter it was a routine day at the office for Nadal, who dominated without ever needing to find top gear, showing no sign of the lower back injury that dogged him in the warm-up.
“All the matches are tough, he came here winning a couple of very good matches. I didn’t convert the opportunities I had early in each set so the situation became a bit more difficult,” Nadal, who is yet to drop a set, said.
He was not at his dazzling best against Norrie in an eerily flat atmosphere, a result of Melbourne’s five-day Covid lockdown forcing organisers to close the doors to fans.
World number one Ash Barty overcame a stumbling start to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open with a 6-2 6-4 victory over Ekaterina Alexandrova at an empty Margaret Court Arena.
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.
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.