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Rowdy fan kicked out as Nadal powers on in Australia, teenager Gauff beaten in second round

Elina Svitolina’s experience came to the fore against Coco Gauff.

Rafael Nadal waves to the crowd after his victory over Michel Mmoh.
Rafael Nadal waves to the crowd after his victory over Michel Mmoh.
Image: AAP/PA Images

Updated Feb 11th 2021, 1:18 PM

RAFAEL NADAL SHRUGGED off any lingering back soreness to storm past qualifier Michael Mmoh Thursday for the loss of just seven games, brushing off a bizarre incident that saw fan thrown out.

The world number two has been struggling with tightness in his lower back since arriving in Australia last month, but showed few signs of it with the roof closed on Rod Laver Arena.

He crushed the American 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in a match interrupted in the second set when a woman was ejected after heckling him and directing rude gestures in his direction.

The Spanish great took it in his stride, grinning and playing football with the ball while he waited, seemingly enjoying having spectators back.

Asked afterwards whether he knew her, he replied: “No, and honestly I don’t want to know.”

He will next play Britain’s Cameron Norrie in his quest for a 21st Grand Slam title.

“I always try to be better, sometimes it happens and sometimes not. Tonight has been a positive evening for me, winning in straight sets.

“For me, I am now just focusing on what is coming because that is going to be more difficult,” he added.

The writing was on the wall, with Nadal enjoying a perfect record against qualifiers at the Australian Open, where he has reached the round of 32 every time he has played, barring his shock first round exit in 2016.

Nadal sent Serb Laslo Djere packing with little drama in the opening round and it was a similar story with Mmoh, whose father Tony twice played at the Australian Open.

After getting his measure in the first few games, Nadal pounced to break in the fourth and never looked back, racing through the set in 27 minutes.

While serving big, the American lacked accuracy and was mercilessly punished by a player ranked 175 places above him.

Nadal was cruising at 5-4 and about to serve for the set when the strange scene with the woman unfolded, delaying play for a brief period.

australian-open-tennis A fan is kicked out of the Rod Laver Arena having interrupted play. Source: Rick Rycroft

They played on but stopped again at 30-0 as security moved in to escort her out. Nadal, who seemed to enjoy the distraction, refocused to serve out the set with two aces.

With the clock rapidly ticking towards midnight, he put his foot down in the third set to wrap up the match emphatically.     

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The 2009 champion, who has a history of back problems, is bidding to win his  21st major title and claim sole ownership of the men’s record, which he currently shares with Roger Federer.

But the king of clay has often laboured in vain on Melbourne’s hardcourts, reaching five finals but only having the one title, falling in the quarter-finals last year to Dominic Thiem.

Earlier today, Elina Svitolina’s experience came to the fore on Thursday against teenage sensation Coco Gauff, as the world number five eyes a maiden Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.  

The Ukrainian lifted in the pivotal moments of the free-wheeling contest to move into the third round with a 6-4, 6-3 victory in one hour and 17 minutes at Rod Laver Arena.  

“It was a really high-level match and when I had chances to break I took it,” said Svitolina, who hit 19 winners and broke once in each set.  

Svitolina’s precise hitting overcame the dangerous Gauff, who showed flashes of the form that fuelled her dazzling run last year at Melbourne Park, but she lacked the consistency of her hardened opponent.

The 16-year-old’s thunderous serve kept her in the hunt during a high-octane first set, but she eventually cracked against Svitolina’s unnerving accuracy.

Svitolina, watched by boyfriend Gael Monfils in the stands, withstood a barrage of heavy groundstrokes from the American to grind out the victory in straight sets. 

Gauff was unable replicate her magical run last year, where she upset Venus Williams and then champion Naomi Osaka to reach the fourth round.

The teenager, who also reached the Wimbledon last 16 in 2019, has quickly emerged as a fan favourite and a vocal leader in the movement for racial justice in United States. 

Svitolina, a two-time Australian Open quarter-finalist, fell in the third round last year after being thrashed by eventual finalist Garbine Muguruza. 

Her biggest career title was the season-ending 2018 WTA Finals in Singapore, having never reached a Grand Slam final.

She plays 26th seed Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan next. 

© – AFP, 2021

Updated at 13.09 to include details of Nadal/Mmoh match 

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