Déjà vu for ruthless Rafa

 - Simon Cambers

World No 1 into last 16 without dropping a set

Rafael Nadal Australian Open 2020C.Dubreuil / FFT

Rafael Nadal could be forgiven if he’s experiencing a bit of déjà vu at this year’s Australian Open.

Just like last year, the world No 1 is through to the last 16 of the Australian Open without dropping a set, his 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 victory over another Spaniard, Pablo Carrena Busta every bit as one-sided as the scoreline suggests.

It is the seventh time he has reached round four in Melbourne that he has reached round four without losing a set and the 26th time he has done it in the four Grand Slams.

Last year, Nadal made it all the way to the final without losing a set only to be humbled by a brilliant performance from Novak Djokovic, who picked up the title for the seventh time.

On that occasion, Nadal was outplayed but said he also paid the price for not having had enough matches coming into the tournament after time off for injury. This time, he goes in with a stack of matches under his belt, having barely stopped since November, and while Novak Djokovic has dropped one set and Roger Federer two, he has kept energy in the tank.

It was my best match of the tournament so far, without a doubt,” Nadal said on Saturday. “I have been serving well, starting to create damage with the forehand. I think I started to hit the forehand down the line very well, which is very important for me. Every day is a different story, but of course it is important to make steps forward. It's clear that today I make an important one.

Having played in the ATP Finals in London in November and then led Spain to victory in the revamped Davis Cup the following week, Nadal’s off-season was shorter than usual as he arrived in Australia to play in the inaugural ATP Cup.

As someone who has always liked to play a good number of matches to start feeling confident, Nadal went into this year’s Australian Open feeling good and though he was a little rusty in his opening two wins, he looked in perfect condition against Carreño-Busta, who simply had no chance.

Saving energy in week one has been crucial for Nadal over the years, with 12 of his 19 Grand Slam titles coming when he has not dropped a set in his first three matches.

The big challenges are set to come thick and fast, now, though, starting with Nick Kyrgios, though Nadal will have enjoyed the fact that the Australian went the distance in a final-set match tiebreak against Karen Khachanov of Russia.

Nadal and Kyrgios are not bosom-buddies, with the Spaniard having been critical of the Australian’s on-court behaviour at times and Kyrgios admits he does not get on well with the 12-times Roland-Garros champion off the court.

But both men are full of respect for each other’s ability and Nadal knows he can expect a tough match in front of a partisan crowd.

When he plays good tennis and he shows passion for this game, he is a positive player for our tour, and I want my tour bigger, not smaller,” he said. “When he's ready to play his best tennis and play with passion, is one of these guys.

Kyrgios will hope he can recover from the longest match of his career, having needed four hours, 26 minutes to beat Khachanov, but will also go into the match with some confidence, having won three of his seven battles with Nadal.

He’s an amazing champion,” Kyrgios said. “Whatever happens between us he’s an amazing player, arguably the greatest of all time. He’s a champion."