World no. 2 Rafael Nadal defeated Cameron Norrie 7-5, 6-2, 7-5 in two hours and 14 minutes to reach the Australian Open last 16 for the 14th time in the previous 15 Melbourne trips. Nadal became the third player in the Open era with 30 consecutive sets won at Majors after John McEnroe and Roger Federer, winning the last ten Major matches in straight sets.
Struggling with a back injury for a couple of weeks, Rafa defeated Laslo Djere, Michael Mmoh and Cameron Norrie without losing a set, staying on the court for around six hours and hoping for another strong performance against Fabio Fognini on Monday.
Rafa lost serve once from the only break chance offered to Cameron and delivered five breaks to seal the deal in a way he wanted. The Spaniard made a strong start and wasted return chances before spraying a forehand error to fall 3-2 behind.
The Briton couldn't stay in front for too long after netting a forehand in game six for a break at love. Both players produced comfortable holds in the following five games, with Norrie serving at 5-6. Rafa broke the fellow left-hander at 15 in the best moment to claim the opener 7-5 after 48 minutes.
Nadal forced Norrie's error in the first game and moved 2-1 ahead with a perfect forehand down the line winner in game three. Cameron saved two break points in the next one to remain in touch before Rafa claimed a return game at love with a smash winner at 3-2 to forge the advantage.
Rafael Nadal praised Fabio Fognini ahead of their Melbourne clash.
Returning at 5-2, Nadal obtained another break to wrap up the set and move closer to the finish line. The Spaniard created two break opportunities in the third set's second game, denied by Norrie's brave hitting and two winners that kept him alive.
The Briton overcame three deuces in game six to stay competitive until the closing stages, like in the opener. Rafa closed the 11th game with a backhand winner and earned a match point with a forehand winner in the next one.
Nadal converted it with a forced error to secure the victory and reach the last 16. "These are my first matches in a long time; I already had three that I hope will prepare me for what is coming. I hope to be ready for Monday.
All the matches are tough, and Norrie came here after winning a couple of very good encounters. I didn't convert the opportunities that I had at the beginning of every set, and the situation became a little more complicated.
I had many chances with a couple of 0/30 leads and break points that I didn't convert. When you play against the world's best players, it is expected that you would suffer a bit. Fognini and I played a lot of times, and he beat me in a couple of matches.
He came here after an injury and will be hungry to play well. He scored an impressive victory today against De Minaur. I saw it was in straight sets, and he will come into the match with plenty of confidence; I need to keep improving.
You don't expect an easy round in the last 16 at Majors; it should be a tough one, and I have to be ready for it," Rafael Nadal said.