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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Wednesday, April 17, 2024


Alex de Minaur broke serve five times and won eight of the last nine games beating former No. 1 Rafael Nadal 7-5, 6-1 in Barcelona.

Photo credit: Getty

A sliding Rafael Nadal watched the yellow ball elude his outstretched racquet and die in the dirt.

Former world No. 1 Nadal made a welcome return to Barcelona yesterday.

More: A Roland Garros Contender Emerges

Today, Alex de Minaur showed Nadal the door.

De Minaur broke serve five times and won eight of the last nine games defeating Nadal 7-5, 6-1 to advance to the Barcelona round of 16.

Playing just his third tournament in the last 17 months, Nadal was credited with 42 unforced errors compared to 26 for de Minaur, who defended his second serve far more effectively.

“To play Rafa on this court in front of a packed crowd…when the draw came out, I probably wasn’t too keen on playing Rafa,” de Minaur said. “But I turned my attitude around and looked at it as a great opportunity.

“A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So I’m extremely happy I was able to get the win.”

Barcelona fans stood as one saluting Nadal with a standing ovation as he walked off Pista Rafa Nadal, the Barcelona stadium court that bears his name, likely for the final time waving in appreciation to the fans.

Acapulco champion de Minaur made history as the first Aussie to defeat the king of clay on a clay court. De Minaur showed a convincing closing kick: He won eight straight points to end the first set and eight of the last 10 points to end the match.

One of the fastest men in the sport, de Minaur repeatedly backed Nadal up with the depth of his drives then tormented him with the feather duster drop shot.

On the first point of the match, de Minaur successfully drop shotted Nadal sending the 37-year-old Spanish superstar a foreboding signal of what was to come.

“I think maybe the only thing I might have on Rafa on clay is maybe physicality at this stage of his career,” de Minaur said. “I tried to make the rallies quite physical and quite long and use my speed to my advantage. Of course make him move, but it’s never easy against him.”

The 25-year-old de Minaur defeated Nadal in their last meeting at the 2023 United Cup and showed his strategy on the opening point.

The 11th-ranked Aussie carved out a clever drop shot on the first point and proceeded to test Nadal’s legs and first step. That shot set the tone and helped de Minaur score the opening break.

Showing his lateral burst, de Minaur unleashed a whiplash running forehand strike down the line in the third game. Carving out another clean forehand drop shot winner earned de Minaur break point for a double break.

Nadal denied it and withstood another dropper winner unloading a barrage of crosscourt forehands into the Aussie’s backhand wing as he held for 1-2.

Six games into the match, Nadal was reading the dropper and ready with a reply. Running down a drop shot, a sliding Nadal lifted a loopy lob to press ahead love-30 on de Minaur’s serve.

Showing high shot tolerance, Nadal out-dueled de Minaur in a crosscourt exchange and pasted a backhand bolt crosscourt to break back and level after six games.

Force-feeding de Minaur a dose of his own drop-shot medicine, the Nadal forehand dropper put him up 40-love. Then Nadal rocketed another backhand missile crosscourt, capping a love hold for 4-3.

The drop-shot duel escalated in the eighth game with Nadal carving a drop shot off a de Minaur drop shot to earn break point.

De Minaur quieted the threat and elevated his game to streak through the set with successive shutout games. De Minaur broke at love for 6-5.

When Nadal put a backhand return into the net, de Minaur served out the opening set at love, winning 13 of the last 16 points in the set.

The 12-time Barcelona champion dribbled a drop volley off the top of the tape holding to start the second set.

Both men were attacking the other’s backhand wings. Streaking forward, Nadal hit a forehand drive volley but didn’t drive it deep enough and de Minaur drilled a pass sparking his third break for a 2-1 second-set lead.

Unrelenting court coverage saw de Minaur hit back everything Nadal threw at him.

A shrewd de Minaur used the drop shot-lob combination to help confirm the break for 3-1.

In a draining fifth game, Nadal saved two break points but could not find the finishing shot. On this day, Nadal played more dynamic tennis than he did defeating Flavio Cobolli in his comeback win yesterday, but de Minaur was a much more dangerous opponent.

Extending points with sliding strikes, de Minaur drew a floated forehand for his fourth break of the day and a 4-1 lead after one hour, 45 minutes.

Sticking a forehand volley into the corner gave de Minaur match point. When Nadal sailed a final forehand, de Minaur was through in one hour, 51-minutes.


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