Rafael Nadal's brutal act amid Novak Djokovic injury concerns

Sam Goodwin
·Sports Editor
·3-min read
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, pictured here in action at the Australian Open.
Rafael Nadal has sent a warning to Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open. Image: Getty

Rafael Nadal has stormed into the fourth round of the Australian Open without dropping a set, sending a brutal warning to Novak Djokovic that his back concerns are no more.

With Djokovic under a huge injury cloud with a suspected torn muscle in his side, Nadal dispatched British player Cameron Norrie 7-5 6-2 7-5 on Saturday night.

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The door to a record-breaking 21st grand slam singles title now appears to be firmly ajar for Nadal, with Roger Federer absent and Djokovic struggling.

While the Spaniard had injury concerns of his own early in the tournament, on Saturday night he said his back is much better in a chilling warning to his rivals.

"No, the back was not getting better each day - it was getting better today," he said with a smile.

"But today is better, yeah. First day I feel an improvement, and that's the most important thing for me today, more than any other thing."

Nadal currently sits equal with Federer on 20 grand slam titles, with the younger Djokovic hard on their heels with 17.

A title in Melbourne would help boost Nadal's true all-round status in the sport, the claycourt maestro's one and only Norman Brookes Challenge Cup coming back in 2009.

On Friday night Djokovic said he was "sad and worried" that he wouldn't be able to play his fourth-round clash with Milos Raonic.

"I know it's a tear, I don't know if I'll be able to recover from that in two days," Djokovic said after his titanic five-set battle with Taylor Fritz.

"I don't know if I'll be able to step out on court, I don't know.

"I honestly don't know how I won that match. I'm very proud and at the same time sad and worried."

Rafael Nadal, pictured here after beating Cameron Norrie at the Australian Open.
Rafael Nadal laughs during his court-side interview after beating Cameron Norrie at the Australian Open. (Photo by Andy Cheung/Getty Images)

Nadal sets up clash with Fabio Fognini

World No.69 Norrie refused to be intimidated by Nadal, going toe-to-toe with the 34-year-old for much of the first set.

He established the first break - only to be broken back immediately - and went to 5-6 before Nadal put his foot down to claim the set.

Nadal snatched two breaks in the second before another close call in the third where Norrie rolled over again at 5-6 to give up the match.

The victory also continued Nadal's remarkable record against fellow left-handers.

He last lost to one back in 2017 when beaten by Canadian Denis Shapovalov and this win made it 16 on the trot.

His victory sets up a fourth-round encounter with Fabio Fognini, who eliminated the last Australian man in the field, Alex de Minaur, in straight sets.

The two have something of a chequered history, dating back to a spat - mainly directed from Fognini - at the 2015 Hamburg Open.

But Nadal said his relationship with a player who has been known to get on the wrong side of others on tour - including his fellow Italian Salvatore Caruso in the second round in Melbourne - was now "very good".

"Of course we had our story on court a couple of years ago, but no problem at all after that," he said of Fognini, who has won four of their 16 matches.

"When he's playing well he's one of the most dangerous opponents on tour without a doubt."

with AAP

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