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Rafa puts his back problem behind him

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Nadal showed no sign of discomfort against his 177th-ranked American opponent and peppered the blue court with winners from both forehand and backhand sides.

Spain’s Rafael Nadal hits a return against Michael Mmoh of the US during their men’s singles match on day four of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 11, 2021. Picture: Brandon Malone, AFP

RAFAEL Nadal dispelled any remaining doubts over his fitness with a commanding 6-1 6-4 6-2 win against American qualifier Michael Mmoh on Thursday to march into the Australian Open third round, and stay on track for a record 21st Grand Slam title.

The second seed did not play a match in Spain’s ATP Cup campaign last week with a back problem and following his opening win in Melbourne he had said the injury was still bothering him.

Nadal showed no sign of discomfort, however, against the 177th-ranked American under the closed roof of the Rod Laver Arena and peppered the blue court with winners from both forehand and backhand sides as Mmoh watched on helplessly.

The 2009 Melbourne Park winner, who is tied with Roger Federer at 20 Grand Slam singles titles, will next meet either Briton Cameron Norrie or Russian qualifier Roman Safiullin.

Meanwhile, Daniil Medvedev continued his impressive run of form as he celebrated his 25th birthday with a clinical 6-2 7-5 6-1 victory over Roberto Carballes Baena to reach the third round.

In the women’s draw, World No 1 Ash Barty suffered a meltdown on the brink of victory, but re-gathered herself to fend off compatriot Daria Gavrilova 6-1 7-6(7) and reach the third round.

Barty, who came on to centre court with her left thigh heavily strapped, served for the match at 5-2, but was broken twice in a hail of unforced errors, allowing wild card Gavrilova to drag the contest deep into a tiebreak.

Fortunately for Barty, Gavrilova reprieved her twice with unforced errors on set point, and then coughed up another on match point.

Having destroyed first-round opponent Danka Kovinic 6-0 6-0 in 44 minutes, Barty said her slump against Gavrilova was par for the course after missing almost the entire 2020 season.

“I think it’s natural,” the top seed told reporters. “I mean, I haven’t played a lot of tennis over the last 12 months. Obviously (I’m) going to have ebbs and flows, not only in your concentration but your level of play as well.”

Kaia Kanepi confessed that she was a bundle of nerves yesterday, as the Estonian veteran overcame defending champion Sofia Kenin in straight sets to notch up the biggest upset of the women’s draw so far.

It looked like a mismatch on paper, with World No 65 Kanepi, who is yet to reach the second week at the Australian Open, taking on fourth-ranked Kenin.

But Kanepi turned the tables on Kenin with a combination of power and depth in her groundstrokes, hitting 22 winners to just 17 unforced errors in the match.

While Kenin admitted she crumbled under the pressure of defending her title, her opponent was equally nervy on the other side of the net.

“I couldn’t actually know what she feels because I was nervous too,” said Kanepi, who won 6-3 6-2. “I had to calm myself down, and then I had no time to look how the opponent is feeling or doing.”

Reuters