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Rafael Nadal insists his bothersome back injury is finally beginning to settle down after eliminating Cameron Norrie to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open on Saturday. The world No 2 won 7-5, 6-2, 7-5 to knock the last remaining Briton out of the Grand Slam in Melbourne.
Nadal has yet to drop a set on the Rod Laver Arena having now seen off Laslo Dere, Michael Mmoh and Norrie.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion came into the tournament with fears over his fitness after a back problem forced him to skip ATP Cup action for Spain last week.
Nadal even admitted after the win over Mmoh that his problem was “not under control” and that he was fighting “to find solutions every day”.
But after seeing off Norrie at Melbourne Park, second seed Nadal – who takes on Fabio Fognini in the fourth round on Monday – offered his most encouraging update yet.
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“It’s less pain. That’s all. The back was not getting better each day, it was getting better today,” Nadal smiled.
“Today is better, yeah. First day I feel an improvement, and that’s the most important thing for me today, more than any other thing.
“I need to come back to my normal serving. I was serving quite well. So of course I was not serving my normal serve for the last 15 days.
“Today is the first day that I started to serve again my normal serve. But yesterday I didn’t practice, so today just warming up with the new, with the normal movement.
“So of course I didn’t serve bad, but I can do better, I think. And I’m looking forward to do it better, no?
“It’s been an important victory for me. The biggest victory is the back is better for the first day. So that’s the most important thing.”
Nadal was not at his absolute best in an empty Rod Laver Arena against Nadal but was able to fight through.
He added of his performance against 69th-ranked Norrie: “I did things well, things that I need to improve. Something normal.
“But, yeah, happy of course. Second week, straight sets. Can’t complain.”
Asked about his impression of Norrie, the one-time Australian Open champion continued: “Good. No, I think have been a good opponent. He’s brave. Yeah, his serve worked quite well, especially the first serve.
“And then he has a very flat backhand, that today with that heavy conditions, ball was quite slow, court fast, so that helps a little bit to him.
“And, yeah, I think he has a complete game. I don’t know what’s his ranking today, honestly, but when you are 50 or 40 or 60, of course you can go to the next step.
“Why not? Is sometimes the ranking makes a big change with a couple of matches per year, no? There is a couple key matches per year that creates a big difference on the year-end ranking.
“So these kind of matches can decide if you’re gonna be 30 or you’re gonna be 55, for example, no? Because there is a big gap of points in some key matches.
“His level, I mean, is good. He has a lot of positive things. If he’s able to keep improving, why not? I don’t see why he can’t reach that level.”
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