John McEnroe knows a lot about tiebreaks – after all, he won one of the greatest ever against Bjorn Borg in the 1980 Wimbledon final (here’s a video, great show). And McEnroe said that the Australian Open Round of 16 tie-break between Rafael Nadal and Adrian Mannarino is in the top 10 in history.
A little foreplay.
Mannarino, who finished his previous match at half-past three in the night, played the first set almost perfectly and looked stronger than Nadal in terms of the game.
• Rafa couldn’t adjust to his serve, especially into the second square, when left-hander Adrian got up to the touchline on the first ball to set the corner sharper.
• Moreover, even on Mannarino’s second serve – not very strong – Nadal had problems, and for some reason he sent the reception out of time over and over again.
• The Frenchman dominated plays with low-key aggression. All of his punches are not that very strong – but so flat, unpleasant in direction and deep that Rafa was knocked out of position over and over again.
• And Nadal with great difficulty found the depth and density of impacts to somehow counter this. Especially if he did not pass the first serve.
Now to the main action.
Nadal immediately gave a point on his serve, but with the score 2:4 he bounced back – when he was finally able to invest in receiving the second ball.
Then Rafa quickly won two points on his serve, and with the score 5:4 he created such a circling miracle that brought him two set points.
Mannarino played the first setball with a serve, and the second with an attack on the Spaniard’s second serve.
Next are the most interesting moments.
7:7 – everyone saw what problems Mannarino’s backhand created for Nadal. The Frenchman punches almost without a swing, and it was hard for Rafa to read this blow – he had to guess. Sometimes he didn’t guess.
9:8 – Nadal starts to use a new tactic: cuts a lot from backhand to Mannarino’s backhand, keeps the ball lower to make it uncomfortable for the Frenchman to attack. This allows Rafa to launch an attack, but Adrian miraculously hits a forehand into the back of the baseline.
11:10 – the Frenchman moved away from his favorite serve in width – he shot through the middle, Nadal did not read, he took it softly, and Mannarino carefully transferred it to an empty part of the court.
11:12 – Mannarino’s set point, Nadal shortened it badly, but read the opponent’s attack and transferred it from the backhand to an empty court.
12:13 – Mannarino still has a set point, Nadal was under pressure, but restored the position with cut backhands, and then captured it with two forehands.
13:14 – Nadal wins back the fourth set point with a missed serve. No drama!
14:14 – Rafa’s new tactic kicks in again, backhand cutters squeezing out an error.
15:14 – Nadal somehow miraculously gnaws out the draw. After the match, he said that at the end of the tie-break he was lucky – and indeed Mannarino’s decision to punch right into him cannot be called otherwise.
As a result, the tie-break lasted 28 minutes 40 seconds and became the longest in Nadal’s very long career. Rafa was so happy that he hit the air five times!
During the tie-break, Mannarino began to grab his groin, and in the second set it quickly became obvious that it was becoming very difficult for him physically. He didn’t move so clearly anymore, didn’t invest so much in the ball, and this hit his game hard. And Nadal, on the contrary, was inspired and began to play more bitingly and aggressively.
As a result – 7:6, 6:2, 6:2, Nadal reached the quarterfinals of the Grand Slam for the 45th (!) time.
And there he is waiting not for the most stable player of the second half of 2021, Alexander Zverev, but for Denis Shapovalov. The German on Sunday was very lethargic and passive, while Denis, on the contrary, played a very high-quality match, demonstrated stable and controlled aggression and crushed world number 3. He was especially good at the grid.
With Shapovalov, Nadal will also simply not be – when they met on clay in Rome last year, Denis had two match points. And in December, he beat Rafa at an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi.