Rafael Nadal teaches teenage rival a brutal lesson

Rafael Nadal celebrates his win against Alex De Minaur. Picture: Nigel French/PA
Rafael Nadal celebrates his win against Alex De Minaur. Picture: Nigel French/PA
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For all the chaos and confusion throughout the rest of the draw, with seeds disappearing quicker than snow in this incredibly hot summer, two tried and trusted campaigners are sticking to the old routines.

At the top of the draw sheet, seeded No.1 is Roger Federer, safely booked into his place in the fourth round thanks to another easy win on Friday. At the bottom, seeded No.2 but actually ranked as the world No.1, is Rafael Nadal, and yesterday he joined his old foe in the second week of the tournament with a simple 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 win over Alex De Minaur of Australia.

That Nadal had to take an extended bathroom break at the end of the second set to change his sweat-sodden clothes was more to do with the blistering summer sunshine than the effort needed to beat the Aussie teenager.

There was that and the fact that Nadal was playing at double quick time (two hours and two minutes for three sets is lightning fast for him) in order to watch the England match.

“Just happy to be in the fourth round again, is positive news for me,” he said, hopping from foot to foot and desperate to get away from his interrogator, “and I’m just excited to keep playing well and to watch some football. What’s going on? England is coming home, or not?”

As he spoke, England scored their first goal and when England kicked off, he was already two sets and a break to the good. He was in no mood to hang around. Sir Bobby Charlton, however, was ready to stick around.

As a guest in the Royal Box, he could have retreated to the air conditioned comfort of the clubhouse to take a sneaky peek at the television, but he stayed to watch the Spanish legend pulverise the skinny but talented De Minaur. That meant a lot to Nadal.

“That’s a great feeling,” Nadal said. “I saw him on TV before I went on court. Just can say thanks to him for respect our sport that much.”

Back on court, the crux of the match came early.

In the fourth game of the opening set, Nadal saw his opportunity and he would not give in until he had taken it. For 12 minutes he jousted with De Minaur in a game of six deuces and five break points. Once he had converted the last of those, Nadal raced towards the fourth round.

For De Minaur, still in his first season as a professional and who should now move up to No.68 in the rankings, the whole experience was a practical demonstration of just how much work he has still to do if he is to compete with Nadal and his like. It was a brutal lesson.

“It’s just incredible his physicality,” De Minaur said. “That’s probably what shocked me the most. It’s the first time I have been on a court with him and just his presence, as well. Obviously you watch him on TV, and you can’t really appreciate how hard he hits every single ball and how much intensity and just brute force goes into every one of his ground strokes.

“I took it all in today. It was just something new, and it took me a while to sort of really try to work my way in there. But at the end I felt like it was just a couple games, my service games, long games where I wasn’t able to quite finish it off. And then he was able to get that break and then start playing more freely.”

And Nadal playing freely is usually the precursor to Nadal winning. Yet, it has been a long time since he played well – or at all – in SW19. This is only the third time he has reached the fourth round since 2011. A succession of knee problems, wrist problems or just plain exhaustion after a long clay court season have limited his progress in recent years. Now, with three wins under his belt and not a set dropped, he sounds like he is planning a longer stay this year.

“Just happy the way that I played during the first week,” Nadal said. “Three matches, every match have been more and more positive. I am playing well. Good start. Second match I played so well. Today, again, I played a good match.”

So what about the possibility of a Nadal-Federer final? It would be a repeat of their classic 2008 final when the Spaniard won the first of his two Wimbledon titles.

“If I am in the final, I prefer to face an easier opponent,” he said. “I am not stupid! But if I am in the final, will be great news.”

After a first week of ludicrous results, the thought of the two old boys squaring up again next Sunday is strangely reassuring.

And if England are in the World Cup final on the same afternoon, Sir Bobby Charlton won’t know where to look.