Ninth seed Rafael Nadal continues his quest for his second Australian Open title on Thursday, as he takes on former runner-up Marcos Baghdatis in an exciting second round clash. The Spaniard saw off Florian Mayer in comfortable style on Tuesday, whilst Baghdatis benefited from Mikhail Youzhny’s retirement after the Russian had found himself a set and a break down.
Nadal breezes past Florian Mayer
Rafael Nadal secured his first win at the Australian Open for two years on Tuesday, as he defeated the tricky Florian Mayer 6-3, 6-4, 6-4. The ninth seed departed Melbourne at the first round stage in 2016, but made sure there was no repeat of the early exit at the hands of Fernando Verdasco by dominating from start to finish.
The 30 year-old served at an impressive 70% first serve, which enabled him to prevent his German opponent from even registering a break point opportunity throughout the three sets. This combined with 39 winners meant that Mayer was never allowed to settle in the match, and a single break each set was enough for Nadal to progress through.
Nadal’s 2017 started in confident fashion, as he lifted his fourth Mubadala World Tennis Championship title in Abu Dhabi, after defeating David Goffin in the final of the exhibition event. His first appearance on the ATP World Tour of the year was in Brisbane, where Alexandr Dolgopolov and Mischa Zverev were beaten in convincing style before Milos Raonic surprised him in the last eight in a three-set victory.
Baghdatis benefits from Youzhny's retirement
Marcos Baghdatis’ had an equally comfortable progression to the second round, after Mikhail Youzhny retired early in the second set during the opening round. The Cypriot had clinched the opener 6-3, and looked on course for a two-set lead after breaking for 3-0 in the following set, only for Youzhny to cut the match short unable to continue.
Like Nadal, the 31 year-old clinched his first win in Melbourne for two years, and ensured he has now reached the second round on eleven occasions from thirteen attempts. It continued Baghdatis’ good start to his season, after an early setback in Doha where he retired just a game away from defeat to veteran Radek Stepanek in the first round. Any thoughts of an injury lay-off were put aside by a run to the last four in Auckland, where Joao Sousa proved the only difference from a place in the final. Defeat in the semifinals aside, Baghdatis’ 2017 season has kickstarted with wins over Adrian Mannarino, Dustin Brown and Jiri Vesely.
The pair’s meeting in Melbourne will be the tenth of their careers, after meeting nine previous times across a nine-year span. Nadal holds a dominant 8-1 record, with his only defeat to the Cypriot being in three sets at Cincinnati back in 2010. The first ever match between the two took place in Indian Wells, with the only Grand Slam meeting taking place later that summer during the semifinals of Wimbledon.
Their most recent clash took place two years ago on the grass courts of Stuttgart, where Nadal recovered from dropping the second set on a tie-breaker to secure a three-set victory.
If their previous meetings are anything to go by, a Nadal victory should be expected, and their tenth clash is likely to be no different after a strong start by the Spaniard in Melbourne. The ninth seed showed signs of his devastating best in the win over Mayer, serving impressively throughout to give his opponent little chance of finding a way into the match.
Baghdatis won 88% of points on his first serve, but only managed to get 47% of his first deliveries in which would give Nadal plenty of opportunities to secure breaks of serve if a similar pattern followed. The rare sign of optimism for Baghdatis fans is that Nadal’s break point conversion in his opening match was a lowly 25%, even if twelve break point chances were created.
For Baghdatis to have any chance of recording just his second ever win over his illustrious opponent, he must up his first serve percentage and take any opportunity that is unlikely to come his way. For Nadal, more of the same from his opening round win would be enough to secure a safe passage into round three. Unseeded Baghdatis has only ever secured one victory over Nadal in nine meetings, another is unlikely to come in this second round match, but expect some entertaining rallies and antics from the ever-popular Cypriot in Australia.
Prediction: Rafael Nadal in straight sets