Round 4: Rafael Nadal def. Kevin Anderson 7-5 6-1 6-4
Superb tennis by Nadal
In what he described as “his best match of the tournament so far”, Nadal thwarted some big hitting from the South African Kevin Anderson, and then put on a commanding display of tennis, to reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open for the eighth time. What was commendable was Nadal’s ability to face three break points in the first set, and then come back to obtain a break of his own, to close the set, and the doors on Anderson’s chances.
Nadal started serving, and won a long opening point, indicating he was sharp from the word “go”. He won the game with a backhand crosscourt missile, to take a 1-0 lead. Anderson lived up to his “big-server” tag, as he held his opening game with a love hold, hitting strong forehand returns.
Nadal was under slight pressure in his next service game, but managed to hold on to serve, due to a mishit from Anderson. Anderson followed it up with a solid service game as well, staying with Nadal at the early stages of the match. The Spaniard conceded the first break point of the match, after missing a regulation forehand crosscourt winner. Anderson went for a backhand crosscourt winner, but it went long. Nadal used the wide serve to get out of a hole, after Anderson shanked a few forehands wide, whenever Nadal was cornered.
Both players continued to hold serve, with Anderson holding a bit easier than Nadal. At 5-4, Nadal tried his best to put pressure on Anderson, but he came through, with some brilliant returning, pushing Nadal back and not giving him a chance to hit a winner of his own. Anderson finished with a love hold, to level the scores at 5-5.
The world No.3 failed to make a first serve in the crucial game, as he was down three break points, after powerful shots from Anderson. Nadal saved all three, getting his first serves back in order, and hitting a terrific return from the baseline. He was down a break point again, and surprised Anderson with an ace down to T, in the ad court. He conceded another break point and this time went wide, for a simple one two. He finally got himself out of jail, with an ace and another strong serve down the T, ensuring he stayed ahead in the set.
The southpaw applied even more pressure on Anderson. He sent a deep return which sent Anderson off balance and won the point with an inside out forehand. Anderson then hit an easy winner long to give Nadal two set points. The South African saved one by moving to the net but on the second, couldn’t do enough as Nadal returned low at the net to his body and he misfired to the net, to give Nadal the first set 7-5.
Anderson’s errors began to increase
Nadal took the early lead in the second. Anderson was up 40-15, but Nadal followed it up with two brilliant cross-court winners to bring it to deuce. Nadal showed why he was one of the most intelligent tennis players on tour, by going behind Anderson for a forehand winner to bring up break point, and then converted it by running Anderson around and finishing with a backhand winner.
Anderson was looking to keep the ball in court and extend rallies than going for winners as he did in the first set, a clear sign of dipping confidence, and Nadal took full advantage of it. He held serve again to take a 3-0 lead, and the match seemed firmly on his racquet now.
Anderson got increasingly frustrated as he conceded another break point on serve, with Nadal pouncing on every opportunity. He conceded the second break with a double fault, giving Nadal a 4-0 lead, who wasted no time holding serve, as he raced to a 5-0 lead with a love hold, winning the last seven games in a row. Nadal threatened to make it 8, but Anderson finally held serve, as Nadal made a couple of mistakes. The Spaniard was still up a double break and made no mistake on his serve and hit some well-placed shots to take the second set 6-1.
Nadal had an impressive first serve percentage of 75% in the second set, conceding only 13 points to Anderson.
Anderson started the third set with a service hold and Nadal followed suit. Nadal then started winning points at will, hitting passing shots and pushing Anderson backwards, as he broke after forcing an error off Anderson to take a 2-1 lead. Nadal kept improving and hit some amazing shots, on both sides, leaving Anderson exasperated as he consolidated the break. He was in a spot of bother serving at 3-2, 15-30 down, but held on by placing a smart second serve and then followed it up with an ace and a 1-2 winner.
Both players continued to hold serve, with Nadal deflating Anderson’s efforts and putting on a commanding display of his own to take a 5-3 lead. Anderson held for one more time, leaving Nadal to serve for the match.
Nadal finished the match in style, bringing up three match points and winning it in the second with a firing serve down the T and a net volley winner.
Nadal hasn’t dropped a set since his second round match against Tim Smyczek, sending an ominous warning to the rest of the field. His next opponent, Tomas Berdych, will surely know what it feels like to meet a Nadal in this form, as he tries to erase a 0-17 run against the Spaniard, dating back to 2006, in their quarterfinal match.