Rafael Nadal hailed Alex de Minaur as “one of the best in the world” but still showed the teenager the Australian Open door 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 in the third round on Friday.
The relentless Spanish 17-time Grand Slam champion dragged the 19-year-old Australian 27th seed over every inch of Rod Laver Arena as he romped to victory in 2hr 22min.
The Spaniard limped out of last year’s Australian Open at the quarter-final stage, cut short his 2018 season to have surgery on a foot injury and pulled out of his Brisbane warm-up with a thigh niggle.
But in the third competitive match of his comeback, he was back to his barnstorming best with his all-action game hardly allowing his young rival a sniff.
De Minaur, to his eternal credit, did little wrong and never gave up the fight.
At fleeting moments he even had a glimmer of hope of applying the brakes to the runaway Nadal juggernaut, saving six match points — one after chasing down ball after ball in a lung-bursting 24-shot rally.
“He is a big fighter. Probably he is the fastest on the tour,” Nadal said after the match. “That match point saved was unbelievable.
“I think I played a very solid match and I want to congratulate Alex for a great start to the season. I think he has an amazing future.”
The first three games of the match ran to several deuces and 23 minutes of pulsating baseline rallying.
But once he got the break for 2-1 lead, Nadal decided he had enough of the jousting and swept the next four games in just another 17 minutes.
De Minaur was pummelled again on serve in the first game of the second set, which ran to nine deuces and 18 minutes until the tireless Nadal secured it with his fifth break point.
De Minaur managed only his second break point of the match as Nadal served for the second set at 5-2, but it was repelled.
A third and a fourth followed but two big deliveries from the world number two’s new service action snuffed those out.
“I hit a good serve and played a solid game,” said the 2009 champion.
Nadal converted on his first set point and another early break in the third saw Nadal surge through for the third match in a row without the loss of set.
De Minaur, who has Spanish heritage, was simply given a masterclass for the second time at a Slam by the man he dubs “the king”.
At the same stage at Wimbledon last year he went down into an identical 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 scoreline.
Nadal moves inexorably on and will face unseeded Czech former world number four Tomas Berdych for a place in the quarter-finals.
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