‘Means a lot to me’: Rafa demolishes hometown hero, sends warning to Aus Open rivals
Rafael Nadal yearns for more matches after firing another ominous warning to his Australian Open rivals with a ruthless Brisbane International victory over home-town favourite Jason Kubler.
In just his second competitive outing after almost a year out of the game, Nadal cast sentiment aside to crush Kubler 6-1 6-2 in a tennis masterclass on Thursday night.
The 22-times grand slam champion followed up his imperious first-round win over Dominic Thiem with an equally breathtaking display at Pat Rafter Arena.
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.
— Brisbane International (@BrisbaneTennis) January 4, 2024
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.
“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.
The only time Nadal looked troubled 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.
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.
“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.”
Meanwhile, Australian wildcard Arina Rodionova’s bright run at the Brisbane International came to a crashing halt against 16-year-old Russian sensation Mirra Andreeva.
The teenager, already ranked as high as No.43 in the world, took just 64 minutes in a 6-1 6-1 win that denied 34-year-old Rodionova entry into the world’s top 100 for the first time.
Rodionova had beaten former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin to reach the third round in Brisbane.
She won seven ITF titles in 2023 to become Australia’s highest-ranked female, but will need a wildcard to earn entry into this month’s Australian Open.
Andreeva will meet 19-year-old Linda Noskova for a place in the final four after the Czech talent, who burst on to the scene in Australia a year ago, beat Argentina’s Julia Riera in three sets.