by AFP/ pic by AFP
Rafael Nadal will continue his chase for a record 21st Grand Slam title with his shots and grunts echoing around an empty Rod Laver Arena on Saturday after the Australian Open was forced into a biosecure coronavirus “bubble”.
Tennis’s top players have enjoyed the sport’s first sizeable crowds since the pandemic forced a shutdown last year, but Melbourne Park will again fall silent after a five-day, state-wide coronavirus lockdown came into effect at midnight on Friday.
Last year’s Wimbledon was cancelled, the US Open took place behind closed doors and the French Open was limited to 1,000 spectators a day, but up to 30,000 a day had been allowed in during the first week of the Melbourne tournament.
But Nadal might be relieved that one particular spectator won’t be present Saturday when he takes on Britain’s Cameron Norrie in a third-round night clash.
Nadal dropped just seven games against qualifier Michael Mmoh in the second round on Thursday, contending not only with his sore back but an abusive female in the crowd, who was then thrown out.
The woman was given her marching orders after heckling Nadal and flipping a finger in his direction, but the Spaniard took it in his stride.
“Honestly, somebody doing the finger to me. I was surprised, but at the same time was thinking, ‘poor girl’, because probably she was drunk or something like this,” he said.
Nadal said he was still troubled by tightness in his back, despite his smooth progress into the last 32 without dropping a set.
“I just keep fighting to find a solution. I won two matches in straight sets. I have to keep doing things and trying to find solutions for my back,” he said.
– Andy tip –
Norrie has never played Nadal, and said he might give fellow Brit Andy Murray, who has beaten the Spaniard seven times, a call for some tips.
“I mean, that would definitely be a good thing to do,” said Norrie, the world number 69. “Maybe message Andy and see what his thoughts are.”
Also playing on Saturday in the first locked-down day of the tournament is women’s number one seed Ashleigh Barty, who faces Russian 29th seed Ekaterina Alexandrova in a night match on Margaret Court Arena.
Barty lifted hopes of a first Australian winner since 1978 with a 6-1, 7-6 (9/7) second-round win over compatriot Daria Gavrilova.
Fifth seed Elina Svitolina, fresh from knocking out Coco Gauff, opens proceedings on the same court against Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.
Qualifier Aslan Karatsev on Friday became the first Russian to make the last 16 this year when he stunned eighth seed Diego Schwartzman, and three of his countrymen could follow.
Fourth seed Daniil Medvedev plays Serbia’s Filip Krajinovic and seventh seed Andrey Rublev faces Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez.
But 19th seed Karen Khachanov has arguably the toughest task of the Russian trio against Italian Matteo Berrettini, the world number nine.