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 a female 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 — a rarity during the pandemic.
Rafael Nadal, as surprised as everyone else that a fan would flip him off. https://t.co/udogOAiOi5
— Jeff Eisenband (@JeffEisenband) February 11, 2021
Asked afterwards whether he knew the woman, he replied: “No, and honestly I don’t want to know.
“Maybe she take too much gin or tequila. I don’t know, but honestly was strange situation, but funny at the same time,” he added.
“Honestly, somebody doing the finger to me… I don’t know the reason, but I was surprised, but at the same time was thinking, ‘poor girl’, because probably she was drunk or something like this.”
Nadal, who will next play Britain’s Cameron Norrie in his quest for a 21st Grand Slam title, said his back was still not 100 percent.
“No, not under control, honestly. I keep doing the things that I can. If you see my motion on the serve is different than what I would like,” he said.
“But I am trying to find solutions every day. I just keep fighting to find a solution.
“I won two matches in straight sets. I have another opportunity to be on court in two days, and I have tomorrow to keep doing things and trying to find solutions for my back.”
Nadal has 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 higher.
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.
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.
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.