Australian Open: Rafael Nadal sets up Cameron Norrie meeting in Melbourne
Spanish second seed Rafael Nadal will meet Britain’s Cameron Norrie in the Australian Open third round after both won their matches on Thursday.
Nadal’s bid for an outright men’s record 21st Grand Slam continued with a 6-1 6-4 6-2 win over American qualifier Michael Mmoh on Rod Laver Arena.
British number three Norrie eventually beat Russia’s Roman Safiullin to reach the last 32 for the first time.
After a long rain delay, Norrie clinched a 3-6 7-5 6-3 7-6 (7-3) win.
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Norrie looked tight as he failed to serve out a landmark victory at 6-5, but regained his composure to win a tense fourth-set tie-break and tee up a first career-meeting with Nadal.
The Briton roared in celebration after landing a first serve which Safiullin could only return into the net on the first of his three match points.
When told Nadal had also clinched victory a few minutes earlier, Norrie replied: “Sweet. For someone like me, I don’t think about the draw but I saw yesterday he was next to me.
“I’ve never played him before so it will be a great match, a great experience. I can’t wait to show him what I’ve got.”
Norrie came through after three hours and 31 minutes on court, but almost six hours after he first started playing Russian qualifier Safiullin on the outside court eight.
The pair were tied at 1-1 in the fourth set when rain forced them off for almost an hour and a half.
With the weather failing to improve, it looked like they may have to return on Friday to complete their match.
However, good fortune came their way in the shape of American Jessica Pegula thrashing Australian wildcard Sam Stosur 6-0 6-1 in just 50 minutes, allowing them to resume on Margaret Court Arena at almost 22:30 local time.
On Melbourne Park’s second show court, Norrie started quickly with the backing of a boisterous crowd which had stayed behind to watch the bonus action.
The world number 69 pushed for another break of serve in their first game back, but was unable to convert any of three opportunities before Safiullin closed out a much-needed hold.
More pressure came from the Briton at 5-5 and, after making several unforced errors as five more break points disappeared, benefitted from Safiullin clipping the net to secure a 6-5 advantage.
Norrie – who beat British number one Dan Evans in the first round – was not able to serve out victory, but regained focus to dominate the tie-break.
“I used the crowd to my advantage, you were great,” he told them afterwards.
“Playing on court eight and then coming inside to Margaret Court Arena, it was definitely a different match after that.
“We both raised our level and I’m happy to come through.”
Nadal laughs off bizarre heckling incident
Nadal was playing next door to Norrie on the Rod Laver Arena and the manner of his victory against Mmah – ranked 175 places lower than the world number two – was much more straightforward than the Briton’s nervy finish.
The 2009 champion showed no signs of the back spasms which troubled him in the build-up to the tournament, although there was one mishap – which was nothing to do with his opponent.
Instead, it was a rowdy spectator who broke Nadal’s rhythm. The woman disrupted the match by shouting obscenities and gesturing rudely as he prepared to serve for the second set.
A bemused Nadal asked if she was directing the abuse at him and laughed off the incident, only to be stopped again as she continued.
Eventually she had to be escorted out of the stadium by security, with cheers from the rest of the crowd accompanying her.
Unruffled, Nadal served out the set with a hold to love and went on to clinch the match with two more breaks in the third set.
The bizarre incident became the major talking point of a routine win – with the video clips flooding social media – and Nadal again saw the funny side in his on-court interview.
Asked if he knew the woman, a laughing Nadal said: “No – and honestly I don’t want to know.”
He added: “Maybe she took too much gin or tequila. I don’t know. Honestly, it was a strange situation but funny at the same time.”