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Rafael Nadal produced a masterful performance to beat Marcos Baghdatis 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 on Thursday, booking himself a spot in the third round of the 2017 Australian Open.
On the day that the world No. 2 and defending champion Novak Djokovic crashed out of the Melbourne tournament, Nadal showed he could potentially go all the way this year as he dispatched his Cypriot opponent in two hours and 12 minutes.
Nadal, 30, last won a Grand Slam back in 2014, and his sole Australian Open win came in 2009.
However, following a spell of injury problems and indifferent form, the Spanish No. 9 seed looked close to his best again at Rod Laver Arena against Baghdatis.
The opening exchanges were fairly even, and Baghdatis actually earned the first opportunity to break in the third game of the match but could not convert.
At 2-1 ahead, Nadal then won three games in a row before dropping his intensity and allowing Baghdatis back into the set as he clawed back to 5-3.
However, serving for the set a second time, the Spanish left-hander made no mistake as he threw down a confident ace to earn set point and took it for a 6-3 win, per Live Tennis:
Set point #Nadal with an ace.
He takes the first set 6-3 with a big first serve.#AusOpen pic.twitter.com/3HCM0Z9M4z
— Live Tennis (@livetennis) January 19, 2017
Nadal then went up a gear in the second set, hitting every line and running Baghdatis ragged in almost every game.
The 31-year-old did not play poorly but, due to Nadal’s precision and athleticism, he was forced to be bold on every shot and could simply not match his opponent’s consistency.
Nadal raced into a 4-0 lead and, although Baghdatis stopped the rot and held for 4-1 after saving more break points, that was to be his sole game in the second set.
At 5-1 ahead, Nadal attacked Baghdatis’s serve again and earned set point with a precise overhead shot, which he then converted thanks to a huge forehand return.
Per tennis writer Abigail Johnson, the 14-time Grand Slam winner was flying:
He breaks for the set.
Rafael #Nadal leads Marcos #Baghdatis 6-3 6-1.
And it’s official:
Nadal’s on fire. #AusOpen
— Abigail Johnson (@abigailtennis) January 19, 2017
Baghdatis got more of a foothold in the third set, and the pair exchanged holds early on.
However, Nadal was still in the ascendancy as he breezed through his service games while making Baghdatis work for every point.
At 3-2 down, Baghdatis was again forced to save two break points to return to deuce, but he then gifted Nadal a 4-2 lead with a double-fault.
It proved a terminal error from the world No. 36. Nadal’s serve remained metronomic and his power-hitting superb.
At 5-3 ahead in the third and serving for a place in the next round, Nadal earned himself two match points with an exquisite drop shot, but both were saved by a spirited Baghdatis.
The Spaniard sealed the match, though, at the third opportunity with a phenomenal inside-out forehand and must now be considered a genuine contender for the Melbourne title.