Nadal’s backward step carries him forward
EVERYTHING is so methodical, with Rafael Nadal.
From walking out of the race holding a racquet in his hand to arranging and then rearranging energy drinks court-side, the Spaniard's rituals are as legendary as his ripping forehand and fighting spirit.
But the world No. 1 deployed an unusual tactic, tailor-made for Argentine opponent Leonardo Mayer.
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After winning the opening game, Nadal parked himself about six metres behind the baseline to return Mayer, a consummate journeyman not known for power.
He stayed there for first and second serves.
By the fourth game, Nadal had the break and first set in the bag, racing to an early 4-1 lead.
Typically, a player will stand on or just behind the baseline when returning serve, unless their opponent blasts 200+ km/h bombs for fun.
But the technique, used previously against Mayer on clay courts, is designed to give Nadal options.
Stand and deliver from behind the "Melbourne" logo, stamped on Rod Laver Arena, or charge at the baseline and whip balls to all corners of the court with brutal power and precision.
Either way, it spelled trouble for Mayer against the legendary Spaniard, on track to become the first man in Open era - and third ever - to win every grand slam twice.
Up a set and a break, courtesy of a ripping forehand from the shadows of the court, Nadal switched back to the more conventional approach, almost as if to tempt crafty veteran Mayer to play more expansive shots.
"Important victory for me, he's a tough opponent, Leonardo is a player with big potential, he hits the ball so strong and see the last couple of games how tough was he, I had to hit some great shots in the tie-break, he's a very dangerous opponent," Nadal said.
"Happy to be in the third round, of course, after a while not being on the competition, a second victory in a row is very important to me."
But after sitting in the locker room for about two hours longer than expected, because of back-to-back three-set women's singles matches, Nadal wasted no time getting down to business.
The 16-time grand slam champion fed off an adoring crowd and his entourage, breaking down Mayer 6-3 6-4 7-6 (7-4) in a tight but clinical tussle and despite a healthy margin still grumbled about unforced errors (10).
Only a close call with a ball-girl standing next to the chair umpire brought Nadal out of slam mode, when a double-handed backhand misfired and whizzed past her head.