Rafael Nadal showed no signs of rust as he continued his comeback with a ruthless Brisbane International victory over local favourite Jason Kubler.
The only downside of Nadal’s 6-1 6-2 masterclass was when the umpire sheepishly issued the great and fastidious Spaniard a time violation for returning late to the court after a post-first-set toilet break.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Nadal’s explains time violation in post-match interview.
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After briefly protesting, Nadal shrugged off the affront to storm through the second set with a similar display of shot-making excellence to book a quarter-final date on Friday with another Australian, Jordan Thompson.
In his on-court interview after the match, Nadal gave a blow-by-blow account of how he went over the allotted five minutes, which had the crowd at Pat Rafter Arena in hysterics.
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“I think it was something strange because I know I have five minutes,” Nadal said.
“Honestly, Brisbane is very humid and I had to change every single piece (of clothing).”
At this point the interviewer said, “don’t go too far, we get the idea” before Nadal continued.
Nadal had the crowd in stitces. Credit: Twitter
“It takes a while. And then, on the walkie-talkie, they were calling me ‘Three mins, two minutes, one minute, half a minute’.
“I came out at the right time, but I don’t know, probably the (umpire) who was with me said I was four seconds late.
“I thought it was on time, honestly.
“I don’t know if it was me, I don’t think so in that time, but something happened.
“I am slow, I know that, and I’m going to keep trying to improve in 2024.”
The 22-times grand slam champion followed up his imperious first-round win over Dominic Thiem with an equally breathtaking display in just his second competitive match in almost a year.
Nadal not only exhibited his unrivalled intensity and iron will, but also showed fans that he retains, even at almost 38 years of age and after career-saving hip surgery, extraordinary physical powers.
Time and again the mighty Spaniard ran down Kubler drop shots to flick away winners, or ran around backhands to unleash his ferocious cross-court off-forehand, the deadliest shot in tennis.
Kubler, once branded the “right-handed Rafa” for his own supreme athleticism and clay-court class, never had a sniff.
The Brisbane native and former world No.1 junior didn’t win a solitary rally until midway through the fourth game as Nadal stormed through the opening set with a sublime mix of power and precision, including one exquisite Pat Rafter-like backhand overhead.
Nadal’s form is a stark warning to his Australian Open rivals. Credit: AAP
“It has been a very positive match for me, the chance to play a game tomorrow,” Nadal said.
“I started the match playing very well, with a very good determination.
“I saw videos of Jason before the match and I saw him play very solid from the baseline, so I came on court trying to be aggressive with my shots from the baseline and it worked very well.”
Even Kubler offered a wry smile and nudge to fans after finally earning a point midway through the set.
“It means a lot to me – two victories after a long time being outside of the professional tour is something that makes me feel good and happy for that,” Nadal said.
Until facing Thiem this week, the Spaniard hadn’t played since first suffering his hip injury in a second-round loss to American Mackenzie McDonald at last year’s Australian Open.
The former world No.1 knows he still needs more court time to be a serious contender for a third Open crown when the Melbourne Park major gets under way on Sunday week.
“I need matches. I need help,” Nadal said.
“I need to keep practising. Of course, the last two matches here help, and even the doubles the first day too.
“Of course, victories and spending hours on court helps and, for me, it’s every day that I have the chance to play is great news.
“So I’m just happy that I came back after a long time and I feel myself competitive.
“That’s all I want, and then let’s see what’s going on and how far I can go for sure.”
– With AAP