Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 25 August 2019

Australian Open: Rafael Nadal overwhelms Matthew Ebden, Angelique Kerber wins battle of lefties

Second seeded Kerber beats Haddad Maia 6-2, 6-3 and play Australian wildcard Birrell next

Rafael Nadal kept up his remarkable record of having never lost a second round match at the Australian Open against Matthew Ebden. Reuters
Rafael Nadal kept up his remarkable record of having never lost a second round match at the Australian Open against Matthew Ebden. Reuters

A dominant Rafael Nadal overwhelmed Australia's Matthew Ebden in straight sets to reach the third round of the Australian Open on Wednesday and stay on track for an 18th grand slam title.

Nadal, who cut short his 2018 season to have surgery on a foot injury, raced through the tie in just 116 minutes.

The 32-year-old Spaniard's newly remodelled serve only briefly came under pressure from Ebden, 31, who enjoyed vociferous home support on Rod Laver Arena before losing 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

The Australian forced three break points at 3-2 in the first set, but could convert none before the second seed reeled off four games in a row to close it out in 35 minutes.

It was one-way traffic from then on as Nadal, sporting a trademark sleeveless shirt, cruised into the last 32.

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"I played a solid match, I was happy with the way I served. I did a few things very well," said Nadal, who next plays Australian 27th seed Alex de Minaur. "It is an honour to play here. Was a great atmosphere."

Nadal pulled out of his Brisbane warm-up event two weeks ago with a thigh strain but showed no sign of the injury woes that saw him limp out of both the Australian Open and US Open last year.

"I don't know if it's that good," said Nadal modestly after a dominant performance. "I just came back from injury so it is not easy to evaluate yet."

He is bidding to become the first man in the Open era, and only third in history along with Roy Emerson and Rod Laver, to win each grand slam on two or more occasions.

Angelique Kerber celebrates after beating Beatriz Haddad Maia at the Australian Open. EPA
Angelique Kerber celebrates after beating Beatriz Haddad Maia at the Australian Open. EPA

German second seed Angelique Kerber easily won the battle of left-handers against big-hitting Brazilian qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia 6-2, 6-3 to stroll into the third round.

The Wimbledon champion broke the 22-year-old Haddad Maia twice in the opening set and converted her first set point when the Brazilian sent a forehand wide for her 29th unforced error in the set.

Kerber, a triple grand slam champion who won in Melbourne in 2016, faced just one break point in the match in the second set and converted her first opportunity in the eighth game to go 5-3 up and serve for the set.

"I think it was a good match from my side. I was trying to play aggressive from the first point until the last one, serving good, really focusing on the moment on court," Kerber told reporters.

"I think I was playing good, especially in the second set, it was a little bit close."

The Brazilian saved 10 break points in the first set, six of them in the sixth game for a hold, and hit more winners than Kerber. However, she was undone by her erratic shot making.

Haddad Maia cut down on her unforced errors in the second set and made Kerber work harder as the rallies grew longer. The second set went on serve till Kerber broke to go up when Haddad Maia sent a forehand wide.

Another wide forehand groundstroke from the Brazilian gave Kerber the match on the Rod Laver Arena.

"She's also a lefty, so it's always a little bit different to play. Then she was serving good. She really hits the ball hard and tough," Kerber added.

"So I was trying to get a lot of balls back. Also, like I said, being aggressive. I think she's a good player, she really played well."

Former world No 1 Kerber will next meet Australian wild card Kimberly Birrell, who earlier ousted 29th seeded Donna Vekic 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, on Friday while also celebrating her 31st birthday.

"Maybe it's a good omen to play on my birthday," Kerber said.

Updated: January 16, 2019 04:30 PM

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