Grand Slam matches in men’s singles are best-of-five sets, but Rafael Nadal won his Australian Open fourth round match in just one. At least that’s how it felt after he defeated Adrian Mannarino in a nearly 30-minute tie-break, 16-14, on his seventh set point of the first stanza.
Not long after, Nadal was through to the quarter-finals with a 7-6 (14), 6-2, 6-2 win.
The 2009 Australian Open champion saved four set points in the tiebreak odyssey, including one in which he got away with a bad drop shot by guessing correctly and sending a backhand passing shot for a winner.
The first set had been very, very emotional,” Nadal told the audience after the game. “Anything can happen there. I was a bit lucky at the end.
“Everyone knows how mentally [tough] this game is. It was a tough one and after that crazy first set, I think it was so important the break at the beginning of the second set.”
🤫 Don’t tell anyone…
The number 5 in the world beats Adrian Mannarino 7-6 (14) 6-2 6-2 in two hours and 40 minutes.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 23, 2022
As Mannarino struggled physically as the match progressed — and asked for the physio late in set two — Nadal blasted through the next two sets.
The Frenchman topped many of the opening trades and created the lone first set break point on the return at 5-all. Both men seemed to attack with their lefty forehands the entire time, but that wing’s similarities end there. Unlike Nadal’s legendary buggy whip, Mannarino leads the ball with great disguise and a compact swing.
But make no mistake, the Frenchman – who uses low string tension for extra power – took a punch from the baseline. He stayed within the field as much as possible, firing off 19 winners in the opening set, against Nadal’s 17.
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“His ball was very difficult to control, very flat, very fast,” Nadal said of his opponent. “I’m very happy that I survived that first set without a doubt.”
In the tiebreak, Nadal’s fourth set point yielded one of the points of the tournament, especially considering the stakes. The 35-year-old persisted in some corner-to-corner scrambling, then soared into a desperate lob that found a patch of court just out of reach of a Mannarino overhead. After the Frenchman tracked it down, Nadal roped an inside forehand. On the dead run, Mannarino clip the baseline on a cross-court forehand winner to stay in the set.
After the great drama of the opening set of an hour and 21 minutes, there was little to see for the rest of the match, except for a short break in the beginning of the third. The match finished on Nadal’s seventh ace after two hours and 40 minutes, with the opening set lasting longer than the second two combined.
Nadal, who only lost one set in the tournament, will be happy to come off the field in three sets. After taking 33-year-old Mannarino under his wing, he will face younger legs in the quarterfinals against Denis Shapovalov, who upset world number three Alexander Zverev 6-3, 7-6(5), 6 -3.
“Shapovalov is a player with great potential,” Nadal gave a taste. “Everyone knows that if he plays well it’s very hard to stop him” [his] big serve, great forehand and very fast.”