On the court where he hoisted the Wimbledon trophy 16 years ago, Lleyton Hewitt watched as Australian sensation Alex De Minaur, was taken to school by two-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal.
For Hewitt, the shellacking Nadal thrust upon the young Aussie on Saturday likely brought back memories of his final five encounters with the Spaniard. In their final five matches, Hewitt went 0-5 and lost every match in straight sets.
The painful memories of these losses may have been slightly quelled by watching the grit and determination with which de Minaur plays. Despite being under the gun throughout the match, de Minaur gave it his all on every point and pumped himself up as much as he could. Sounds like another Aussie we all know, right?
The main problem de Minaur had in this match, outside of Nadal’s superb level of play, was his inability to break through Nadal’s defensive barriers.
One stat de Minaur needs to critically analyze was his net points won. After realizing how difficult it would be to gain the offensive initiative from the baseline, de Minaur should have started to move forward. Throughout the match, he went to the net a mere eight times, winning just three of those points. Ironically enough, he charged the net on the very first point of the match and then stayed away thereafter.
As de Minaur matures physically, he’ll be able to deliver more natural power. Saturday, it was evident that unless he really strained himself to crank up the level of pace, the power quotient needed to beat a player like Nadal at his best was not there.
One has to appreciate de Minaur’s willingness to take the ball early, but he did not take enough chances to seriously push Nadal. He allowed Rafa to dictate and played from neutral or defensive positions far too frequently.
From a technical standpoint, de Minaur’s forehand is the shot that will require the most improvement. He does not approach the shot with as much conviction as his backhand, and he has less ability to flatten out the ball and shorten the swing when necessary.
Nadal, who must be incredibly pleased to be in the second week without having dropped a set, looked in fine form against de Minaur. Nadal hit 30 winners to 18 unforced errors. He won over 70 percent of his second serve points and only faced three break points throughout the match.
Nadal has transitioned spectacularly from clay to grass. He was impressive taking his backhand early, especially going crosscourt. Nadal also positioned himself tight to the baseline, allowing himself to dictate. We didn’t see Rafa stick to his typical cross-court patterns as he does on clay. Rather, he was consistently moving the Aussie around the court, changing direction on a regular basis.
When we see Nadal play grass-court tennis like this, we are reminded why he has reached the finals of this event five different times.
Next up for Nadal is Jiri Vesely, an opponent who will present an entirely different set of challenges. The Czech is a massive server and hits a big ball from the back of the court.
Nadal lost in the fourth round last year to another big server, Gilles Muller, and will surely not underestimate what will be coming his way next.