LONDON (Reuters) - Never mind the tennis, there was only one thing Rafael Nadal cared about after he completed a hat-trick of straight-set wins to reach the fourth round of Wimbledon on Saturday.
“I’ll go and watch some football. What’s going on? - England, it’s coming home or not?” asked the sweat-drenched Spaniard with a grin moments after handing baby-faced Australian Alex de Minaur a 6-1 6-2 6-4 roasting.
The Alicante-based 19-year-old played his part in an entertaining duel as he chased after everything Nadal could throw at him - and in turn kept the Spaniard on Center Court longer than he would have liked.
But the world number one, chasing a third title at the All England Club, stuck to his own game plan to ensure he reached the second week of the grasscourt major without dropping a set.
Nadal has endured his fair share of losing to young upstarts at Wimbledon, having lost to players ranked 100 or lower in four of his five previous appearances, but there was no danger of that happening on Saturday.
His main target appeared to be getting off court before the 3pm local time kickoff of England’s World Cup quarter-final showdown with Sweden.
De Minaur made him play 26-minutes of extra time but the final result was never in doubt and a lunging volley winner sealed the win - and prompted a mass exodus from Center Court as fans rushed to watch the football on their phones and tablets elsewhere in the grounds. England won 2-0.
“A positive match against a player who is very young with a lot of energy, some tough moments in the beginning. Some tough moments in the third but happy to be through,” said Nadal, whose win also ensured that he would retain the number one ranking at the end of the tournament.
The 32-year-old won the opening set in 33 minutes, and it would have been much quicker had he not needed five break points in a 12-minute fourth game to break the Wimbledon debutant for a 3-1 lead.
Nadal was at his brutal best in the second set as he did not drop any points on serve until the final game.
There he chased down a De Minaur lob to the baseline and with his back to the net, swiped the ball between his legs to lob the Australian. But the teenager tracked the ball as it sailed over his head, made a u-turn as he, too, dashed to the baseline to repeat the between-the-legs shot - only to see his effort get tangled at the bottom of the net.
The trickshot exchange gave De Minaur reason to believe he could trouble Nadal and so it proved to be as he earned two break points just moments later - only to see both disappear and Nadal seal a two-set lead thanks to a backhand error from the Australian.
Whereas Nadal had trouble reading Mikhail Kukushkin’s formidable forehand just two days ago, on Saturday he was seeing the ball like a football and rattled off 30 winners, including eight volleys.
For world number 80 De Minaur, who was aged six when Nadal won the first of his 17 Grand Slam titles at the French Open in 2005, Saturday’s experience proved to be priceless.
“To play on Center Court against Rafa, that’s something that I will remember forever,” said De Minaur, whose ranking has shot up almost 130 spots since the start of the year.
“Obviously you watch him on TV, and you can’t really appreciate how hard he hits every single ball and how much intensity and just brute force goes into every one of his ground strokes. I took it all in today.
“I can hopefully one day have the same presence that Rafa does when he’s out there.”
The Spaniard will next play Jiri Vesely from the Czech Republic as he bids to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals for the first time since finishing runner-up to Novak Djokovic in 2011.
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Clare Lovell and Martyn Herman