Australia may have a rising star in Alex de Minaur but it is going to have to wait a while before he gets to the top. Rafael Nadal, a man who has destroyed more than a few rising stars in his career, thumped his forehand and served beautifully as he crushed home hopes with a 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 victory.
Imperious Nadal puts De Minaur to the sword
Young Australian beaten by the same scoreline as at Wimbledon last summer
The scoreline was the same as it was when the two men met at Wimbledon last summer and but for a late rally from De Minaur in the third set, it was even more one-sided, Nadal finding top form exactly when he needed it.
The Spaniard missed the end of last year because of injury and had foot surgery in the off-season, before being forced to pull out of his season-opener in Brisbane with a leg issue. But he looked 100 percent on Friday as he bullied Australia’s big hope, pulling him around the court and pummelling him into submission.
Everything is a step forward
“I believe I played a solid match, a good level of tennis,” he said. “I was hitting a lot of spots, especially in the first two sets and tried to not let him play comfortable. I tried to make him feel like my ball was good enough so he almost never had control of the points.
“I know he’s dangerous, he’s super-quick. My serve worked well, I felt more dynamic with my movement tonight. In general terms, everything is a step forward and that’s positive for me.”
De Minaur had come into the event with confidence after winning the title in Sydney last weekend. His stunning speed has been clear for everyone to see but right from the start it was obvious that Nadal was in no mood to allow him to even get a foothold in the match.
The first three games were tight and lasted more than 20 minutes. But Nadal got the break for 2-1 and two more breaks gave him the first set. His serve, reworked in the off-season under the guidance of his coach, Carlos Moya, was extremely effective, keeping De Minaur on the back foot. The second set was just as one-sided and in the third, Nadal was again on top early.
The only drama in the match came when Nadal went to serve for the match at 5-4. Having got to 40-0, he missed a forehand, double-faulted and then De Minaur won a superb rally to save three match points.
Two more match points came and went, one with a brilliant forehand pass on the run from the 19-year-old De Minaur but Nadal banged down a strong serve to force a sixth match point.
Consistency keeps the young guns from breaking through
Carlos Ramos, the umpire, gave Nadal a time warning for using more than the allotted 25 seconds but the Spaniard shrugged it off and finally clinched victory when De Minaur sent a groundstroke over the baseline.
“Probably he’s the fastest player on Tour,” Nadal said. “OK, I was two sets to love but if I had lost that last game (anything could have happened). But I think I played a very solid match.
Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have mopped up 51 grand slam titles between them and as Patrick Mouratoglou, the coach of Serena Williams, said this week, their consistency has kept the young guns from breaking through in the biggest events.
“I think it’s up to the champion to not let the others’ level be too good,” he told Roland-Garros.com. “I think Rafa, Roger and Novak killed a lot of generations of players. If they would have let them win a few matches, they would have become very dangerous and maybe better than them. But they put a ceiling above their heads so they hit their heads on the ceiling all the time.”
De Minaur said he “got better as the match went on.”
“I’ve had a great Aussie summer and I’m really proud of the effort I put in,” he said. “I’m a little disappointed I wasn’t able to perform a little better but that’s just what Rafa does to you. You’ve got to pretty much go out there and red-line. I wasn’t able to do that but I got better as the match went on and I tried to the end. The crowd support I had out there was insane. It gave me goose-bumps.
“He's got an amazing future“
Nadal said he felt sure De Minaur will go on to have a superb career. “I think he’s got an amazing future,” he said.
Next up for Nadal will be a rejuvenated Tomas Berdych, the Czech who dropped out of the top 10 last year but is playing some good tennis again after missing half of last year with a back injury.
“He started the season very well, reaching the final in Doha,” Nadal said. “When you are coming back from injury and you do well early, it gives you confidence. I predict it’s going to be a very, very difficult match. I will need to play my best. But I think I am on the right track and I am going to try to keep going.”