Grand Slam men’s singles matches are best-of-five-set affairs, but Rafael Nadal won his Australian Open fourth-round match in just one. At least it felt that way, after he edged Adrian Mannarino in a nearly 30-minute tie-break, 16-14, on his seventh set point of the opening 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 tie-break odyssey, including one in which he got away with a poor drop-shot by guessing right and steering a backhand passing shot for a winner.
The first set had been very, very emotional,” Nadal told the crowd post-match. “Anything could happen there. I was a little bit lucky at the end.
“Everybody 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 world No.5 defeats Adrian Mannarino 7-6(14) 6-2 6-2 in two hours and 40 minutes.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 23, 2022
With Mannarino struggling physically as the match wore on—and calling for the physio late in set two—Nadal blitzed through the next two sets.
The Frenchman was on top in many of the opening exchanges, and he created the only break point of the first set on the return at 5-all. Both men looked to attack throughout with their lefty forehands—but the similarities off that wing end there. In contrast to Nadal’s legendary buggy whip, Mannarino guides the ball with great disguise and a compact swing.
But make no mistake, the Frenchman—who uses a low string tension for extra power—packed a punch from the baseline. Staying inside the court as much as possible, he fired 19 winners in the opening set, to 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 tie-break, Nadal’s fourth set point produced one of the points of the tournament, even more so given the stakes. The 35-year-old hung in with some corner-to-corner scrambling, then floated up a desperate lob which found a sliver of court just beyond reach of a Mannarino overhead. After the Frenchman tracked it down, Nadal roped an inside-in forehand. On the dead run, Mannarino clipped the baseline on a cross-court forehand winner to stay in the set.
After the high drama of the one-hour, 21-minute opening set, the rest of the match featured very little, save for a quick trade of breaks early in the third. The match finished on Nadal’s seventh ace after two hours, 40 minutes, with the opening set taking longer than the second two combined.
Nadal, who’s dropped just one set in the tournament, will be happy to get off the court in three sets. After handling the 33-year-old Mannarino, he’ll face younger legs in the quarter-finals against Denis Shapovalov, who upset World No. 3 Alexander Zverev 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-3.
“Shapovalov is a player with amazing potential,” Nadal previewed. “Everybody knows that when he’s playing well, it’s very difficult to stop him with [his] big serve, amazing forehand, and very quick.”