Nadal all smiles after shaking off unruly spectator to breeze into Aussie Open 3rd round

Rafael Nadal shrugged off some heckling from a spectator before beating American qualifier Michael Mmoh 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 in the second round of the Australian Open.

Defending champion Sofia Kenin gets early bounce in Melbourne

Rafael Nadal defeated American qualifier Michael Mmoh 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 to advance to the third round of the Australian Open on Thursday. (Rick Rycroft/Associated Press )

Rafa Nadal's march towards the third round of the Australian Open was briefly halted on Thursday when an unruly spectator was removed from the Rod Laver Arena for interrupting play as the second-seeded Spaniard watched in amusement.

The incident had no bearing on the match, however, as the world number two completed a commanding performance to swat aside American qualifier Michael Mmoh 6-1 6-4 6-2 and stay on track for a record 21st Grand Slam title.

WATCH | Graphic warning: Nadal overcomes heckler to advance at Aussie Open:

Graphic warning: Nadal overcomes heckler and qualifier Mmoh to advance at Aussie Open

2 years ago
Duration 5:19
Rafael Nadal advanced to the third round of the Australian Open, defeating American qualifier Michael Mmoh 6-1, 6-4, 6-2, but he also had to deal with a fan who yelled at him and made an obscene hand gesture before security escorted her from the stadium.

Nadal was serving for the second set at 5-4 when he was interrupted by a disturbance in the stands. The chair umpire asked a female spectator to be quiet and when Nadal looked toward the crowd she showed him the middle finger.

"What? Me?" asked a bewildered Nadal in response, maintaining a smile on his face as he looked at the woman.

"What? Me?" asks a bewildered Nadal, maintaining a smile, as he addresses an unruly spectator. (Loren Elliott/Reuters)

After a couple of points in the game, she again interrupted play and was subsequently removed by security.

Asked during his on-court interview if he knew the spectator, a giggling Nadal said: "No. And honestly, I don't want to know."

"Maybe she took too much gin or tequila," Nadal later told reporters, continuing to smile. "But honestly was (a) strange situation but funny at the same time.

"Somebody doing the finger to me, I don't know the reason, but I was surprised, yes, but at the same time I was thinking, 'poor girl', because probably she was drunk or something."

Back problem

Nadal did not play in Spain's ATP Cup campaign last week with a back problem and following his opening win in Melbourne he had said the injury was still bothering him.

The back issue was still troubling him, the Spaniard said after reaching the third round where he faces Briton Cameron Norrie, adding he was trying to find solutions to manage it.

Nadal showed no discernible sign of discomfort against the 177th-ranked Mmoh under the closed roof in the evening's final match and peppered the blue court with 40 winners as the American looked on helplessly.

The Spanish left-hander converted five of his 11 breakpoints against Mmoh while not allowing his opponent a single opportunity on his own serve.

Nadal's forehand is considered among the best in the game but his double-handed backhand was also strong against Mmoh.

"I've been improving my backhand all my career," he said. "When I was younger I was able to run everywhere. Now I need to have better shots and the backhand is an important shot for me now.

"When I am playing the backhand well the court opens up better for me. I can produce angles with my forehand but when my backhand is working, normally I am able to play much better."

Kenin's reign comes to swift end

Sofia Kenin knew this would be a tough test at the Australian Open, a potentially early end to her first attempt to defend a Grand Slam title.

Upon realizing she probably would be playing big-hitting veteran Kaia Kanepi in the second round, Kenin acknowledged, she "maybe kind of broke down a little bit."

United States' Sofia Kenin leaves the court following her second-round loss to Estonia's Kaia Kanepi. (Rick Rycroft/The Associated Press)

Kenin was right to be worried. And, with Kanepi at her best, this one was over quickly. Delivering 10 aces, Kanepi powered her way past the No. 4-seeded Kenin, overwhelming the 2020 champion 6-3, 6-2 in just 64 minutes on Thursday.

"I obviously felt like I'm not there 100 per cent — physically, mentally, my game. Everything just feels real off, obviously. It's not good," Kenin said at her news conference, where she wiped away tears.

"I mean, I just — I know I couldn't really handle the pressure," she said.

WATCH | Kenin stunned by Kanepi in 2nd round:

Kanepi upsets defending champion Kenin at Australian Open

2 years ago
Duration 0:49
Estonia's Kaia Kanepi beats Australian Open defending champion Sofia Kenin 6-3, 6-2 in the 2nd round.

There's very little that's subtle about Kanepi's game, and there wasn't much nuance in the way she described her approach to this match: "I served really well today. I think this helped a lot. My game plan was to play aggressive, as I normally do."

Yep, that pretty much sums it up.

This was certainly a significant upset based on rankings: Kanepi, an Estonian, is currently 65th. And based on past accomplishments: In addition to her title at Melbourne Park, Kenin reached the French Open final last year, while Kanepi is 0-6 in Grand Slam quarter-finals.

But the result did make some sense.

After all, Kanepi, 35, had beaten Kenin, 22, in their only previous matchup, part of why this was not a contest the American was looking forward to. Plus, Kanepi has been successful against some of the best on the biggest stages, with seven victories over Top 10 opponents at Grand Slam tournaments, including against then-No. 1 Simona Halep at the 2018 U.S. Open.

And then there was recent form.

Kenin walked off the court crying after a 6-2, 6-2 loss last week in a tuneup event at the site of the Australian Open and explained afterward that her left leg was sore. Kanepi, meanwhile, put an end to No. 7-ranked Aryna Sabalenka's 15-match winning streak last week and entered Thursday having won 16 of her past 17 outings.

With serves topping 110 mph (175 kph), Kanepi saved all seven break points she faced. And she wound up with a 22-10 edge in winners.

"I couldn't find my rhythm," Kenin said. "I was obviously way too nervous."

Her departure meant three of the top nine seeded women already were gone before midway through Day 4 at a Grand Slam tournament where routines have been disrupted by the pandemic, joining No. 8 Bianca Andreescu (the 2019 U.S. Open champion) and No. 9 Petra Kvitova (a two-time Wimbledon winner) on the sidelines.

Serena Williams remains the last woman to successfully defend a Grand Slam title — at Wimbledon way back in 2016.

Barty, Pliskova, Rogers advance

Top-ranked Ash Barty did manage to avoid a surprise Thursday, but she blew a big lead in the second set and survived a shaky tiebreaker to get past Daria Gavrilova 6-1, 7-6 (7).

Barty is trying to become the first Australian to win the women's title at Melbourne since Chris O'Neil in 1978.

"It's a different challenge every single day," Barty said. "It's trying to be the best I can every single day, whatever that level is."

Other winners included former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova and American Shelby Rogers.

Feliciano Lopez, at 39 the oldest player in the men's draw, edged No. 31 Lorenzo Sonego 5-7, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4. Lopez is appearing at his 75th consecutive Grand Slam singles event, a men's record.

Barty lost only 10 points in the opening round, and her match against Gavrilova was equally lopsided until the wobbly finish. She led 5-2 in the second set but was broken twice serving for the victory.

In the tiebreaker Barty lost several ugly points. Gavrilova, a wild card, failed to convert two set points and committed unforced errors to end the final three rallies.

Australia's Ash Barty makes a backhand return to compatriot Daria Gavrilova her second-round victory. (Rick Rycroft/The Associated Press)

The two friends then shared a hug at the net.

"When you play another Aussie, rankings go out the window, experience goes out the window," Barty said. "Typically you know each other so well. It's always going to be a tricky match."

Rogers reached the third round at the Australian Open for the first time by beating Olga Danilovic 6-2, 6-3. Rogers, 28, came into the tournament with a career record of 1-4 in Melbourne, but her ranking and fortunes have been on the rise of late.

She reached the quarter-finals at the U.S. Open for the first time last September, and her year-end ranking was a career-best No. 58. Rogers was sidelined for 14 months by a knee injury sustained in early 2018, and her ranking at the end of that year was 780th.

She had little trouble with Danilovic, a qualifier from Serbia ranked 183rd. The small crowd on Court 3 included Novak Djokovic, who sat behind the baseline shouting encouragement to his fellow Serb.

Pliskova, seeded sixth, advanced by beating American Danielle Collins 7-5, 6-2. Pliskova lost serve twice in a seesaw first set but pulled it out and then pulled away to beat Collins, a 2019 semifinalist at Melbourne Park.

Pliskova has won 65 matches in Grand Slams but is still seeking her first major title. She was runner-up to Angelique Kerber at the 2016 U.S. Open.

With files from the Associated Press

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