Rafael Nadal survived a third-set bombardment from Karen Khachanov Friday to maintain his ruthless start to the season, overcoming the 28th seed 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 to reach the fourth round at the Australian Open for a staggering 15th time.
Prior to January, Nadal had not competed in a tour-level event since Washington in August due to a foot injury. But the sixth seed is playing as if he has never been away, with his victory over Khachanov extending his perfect 2022 record to 6-0.
“It is a very special week for me, coming back,” Nadal said in his on-court interview. “Every single time I am able to play here is very special. Tonight I played against a great player and a good friend on Tour. It was my best match since I have come back without a doubt.”
The Spaniard, who captured his 89th tour-level title at the Melbourne Summer Set earlier this month, dropped only one point on serve in the opening set against Khachanov and recovered from losing just his second ever set against the Russian to eventually advance after two hours and 50 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.
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Nadal is aiming to win a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam title in Melbourne, having lifted the Australian Open trophy in 2009. He fired 39 winners and committed 30 unforced errors to improve to 8-0 in his ATPHead2Head series against Khachanov.
“I have gone through some very tough times over the past year,” Nadal added. “But nights like tonight mean everything. I keep fighting and going every day. I put a lot of effort in to be back with where I am today, so I am happy.”
In a brutal heavy-hitting performance, Nadal took time away from the Russian with his aggressive topspin ball striking in the first two sets, pulling Khachanov one way and then the other as he pinned the 25-year-old behind the baseline.
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The 13-time Roland Garros champion, who broke Khachanov five times, looked on course for a routine win as they moved into the third set. But from 1-2, 40/0 in the set, Nadal lost serve for the first time in the match as Khachanov started to close the net to great effect. The Russian continued to unsettle the sixth seed with his powerful hitting and he gained a foothold in the clash by holding to love to seal the set.
All this did was fire up the Spaniard though, with Nadal breaking in stunning fashion at the start of the fourth set with a backhand pass down the line. The former World No. 1 let out a roar and punched the air in delight, before he raced to finish the line to advance.
Did You Know?
Nadal is attempting to become just the second man behind Novak Djokovic to win all four majors at least twice.