February 11, 2021
Rafael Nadal managed to smile and brush aside the inconvenience of a quarrelsome female fan on his way to a typical straight-sets win at the Australian Open.
Now he faces an even more fearless and persistent opponent in Britain’s Cameron Norrie.
The clash between Norrie and Nadal is irresistible and makes us all long for similar showdowns at Wimbledon 2021.
It will be an intriguing third-round match-up and Norrie will have nothing to lose. He has already gone deeper than most thought possible in Melbourne.
But the Spanish champion won’t worry unduly. He takes all challenges in his stride at Grand Slams. He has seen everything there is to see in nearly twenty years on the circuit.
Rafa won’t be too concerned that Norrie has already beaten the feisty British number one, Dan Evans in this tournament.
It’s fair to say that Nadal’s own path has now left him unusually battle-hardened. His second-round examination involved more than just his opponent over the net. So anything else next time out may seem like a breeze by comparison.
Big-name players have never been happier to interact with fans after such a long time in empty stadia.
But even Nadal must have been surprised by the belligerent lady’s shouts and gestures on his way to a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Michael Mmoh in Melbourne.
Eventually she was removed, to relieved cheers around the arena. And some might argue that only Novak Djokovic or Dominic Thiem can truly trouble Nadal in Australia.
Norrie will have other ideas. He warned: ‘I can’t wait to get out there and show him what I’ve got! It’ll be a great match and a great experience for me.’
The new Brit on the block is growing in stature by the month. And that’s great news for Wimbledon 2021.
Nadal will be pretty confident he won’t have to put up with too much crowd abuse at the All England Club. It’s not really the spectators’ style at the home of tennis.
But fans at Wimbledon will be no less passionate. It’s been nearly two years since they got to welcome the legends. They are preparing a reception like never before.
And Nadal needn’t worry, because he will feel only the love of the crowd in London. What happens between now and Wimbledon 2021, he will take in his stride.
When Rafa was asked if he knew his unforeseen adversary, he replied: ‘No – and honestly I don’t want to know. Maybe she took too much gin or tequila. Honestly, it was a strange situation but funny at the same time.’
Nadal smiled his way through the incident and didn’t let his concentration waver for more than a moment.
The next test will be extremely interesting as we wait to see what Norrie can do to impose himself against one of the greatest players the world has ever seen.
Two lefties going toe to toe will be a brilliant spectacle in front of the rowdy Aussie Open audience.
Norrie has reached the Melbourne Slam’s third round for the first time after a superb 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3) victory against the Russian, Roman Safiullin.
At times Cameron’s tennis was simply breath-taking and you had to wonder how much Jamie Murray’s Battle of the Brits tournaments had sharpened his skills during the pandemic.
He stuttered briefly when serving for the match but showed enough nerve to close out and book his dream contest with Nadal.
Meanwhile there will be no more Australian dreams for last year’s champion, Sofia Kenin. Britain’s Heather Watson was edged out too.
But there was a wonderfully raucous crowd for the match between global superstar Stefanos Tsitsipas and home favourite Thanasi Kokkinakis.
Tsitsipas edged it in a magnificent meeting of free spirits, and the Greek summed it up like this: ‘Forget the tennis, I just want to thank the fans! It’s a great move from Tennis Australia to let people come and watch, we had a couple of Grand Slams last year without fans and it’s so great to have their energy again.’
Wimbledon 2021 will feel the same energy. We can’t wait. Will you be there to add to the atmosphere and see the all-time-greats in action?