Rafael Nadal extended his bid for a record 21st Grand Slam title on Thursday, when he defeated Michael Mmoh 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 at the Australian Open.
The second seed struck 40 winners and won 15 of 16 net points under the roof on Rod Laver Arena to claim victory in one hour and 47 minutes. Nadal is through to the Australian Open third round for the 15th time in 16 tournament appearances.
“I always try to be better [than the previous match]. Sometimes [I am] better, sometimes not,” said Nadal, in an on-court interview. “I think tonight has been a positive evening for me, winning in straight sets. [It is] great news, for everything.”
The 20-time Grand Slam champion has dropped a combined 15 games in his opening two matches, showing no signs of the back stiffness that forced him to miss playing duties at the ATP Cup and enter the year’s first major championship with no match practice in 2021.
Nadal is five wins away from becoming the first man in the Open Era to win each Grand Slam on two occasions. The Spaniard owns a record 13 Roland Garros crowns, four US Open trophies and two Wimbledon titles, alongside his lone triumph at this event in 2009. Nadal has also finished as a runner-up in Melbourne on four occasions since he lifted the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup 12 years ago (2012, ’14, ’17, ’19).
Nadal quickly established control of his second-round match against Mmoh. The Spanish superstar stepped in on short balls to outmanoeuvre Mmoh with his forehand and earn an early break. Nadal ripped cross-court backhand winners to double his advantage and clinched the set after 27 minutes.
“I have been improving my backhand all my career,” said Nadal. “When I was younger, I was able to run everywhere. Now, I need to be able to have better shots and the backhand is an important shot for me. When I am playing well [with] the backhand, the court opens better for me. I can normally produce angles with the forehand, but when my backhand is working then normally I am able to play much better.”
Mmoh managed to hold serve comfortably throughout the majority of the second set, but Nadal pounced at 2-2 to claim the only break of the set. The Spaniard returned with aggression on his backhand side and Mmoh overhit on his groundstrokes to concede serve for the first time.
Mmoh attempted to shorten points by increasing his number of visits to the net in the third set, it was a tactic which proved unsuccessful. Nadal won half of the points when the American charged the net (6/12), which included a sublime backhand passing shot to break serve at 2-2. Nadal drove a forehand winner up the line to add another break to his tally two games later and converted his first match point with a swinging serve into Mmoh’s backhand.
Following his first-round win against Laslo Djere, Nadal revealed that he had to adjust his service motion to lessen the stiffness in his back. The World No. 2 held serve comfortably throughout his night on Rod Laver Arena, as he served seven aces and won 84 per cent of his first-serve points (43/51). Nadal was not taken to deuce in any of his 13 service games.
Nadal will meet Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie in the third round. The 25-year-old recovered from a set down to overcome Russian qualifier Roman Safiullin 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6(3) in three hours and 31 minutes. Norrie and Safiullin’s match began on Court 8, but after a two-hour delay due to rain, it was moved to Margaret Court Arena in order to be completed.
“[Norrie] won two good matches,” said Nadal. “Winning against Evans… [who] came to the tournament winning the week before [at the Murray River Open]… He has experience on the Tour already. [It is] gonna be the toughest test, without a doubt. I need to be playing at high level if I want to keep having chances to be through. And I am looking forward to try to make that happen.”
Did You Know?
With victory against Mmoh, Nadal improved his record against qualifiers to 26-1 at Grand Slam events. The 34-year-old’s only loss to a qualifier at a major championship came in 2015, when Dustin Brown claimed a four-set win at Wimbledon.