Rafael Nadal has a fierce and intense persona on the tennis court, but away from the heat of battle, the world No. 1 is a very affectionate character.
The great man once again showed his softer side on Thursday night when he planted a kiss on a ball girl.
The incident happened in the final set of Nadal’s second round victory over Federico Delbonis, after the top seed accidentally struck the girl on the head with an errant forehand return.
Delbonis’ serve had been called out, but Nadal went ahead to hit his return, striking the girl flush on the head.
Remarkably, the ball girl hardly flinched, giving Nadal a thumbs up to show that she was OK. The concerned Spaniard walked up to the girl, shared a few words with her, before planting a kiss on her cheek.
*????* ballkid moment, narrated by @RafaelNadal ?
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 23, 2020
“For her, it was probably not a good moment,” said Nadal. “The ball was quick and straight onto her head. She is a super-brave girl.”
“It was one of my most scary moments that I had on the tennis court, as the ball went straight onto her head. I had a moment at Wimbledon a long time ago”
It was another demonstration of the warm-hearted nature of the Spaniard, who was presented with the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award for 2019 during the ATP Cup in Perth two weeks ago.
Nadal’s interaction with the ball girl was the highlight of a night when the Spaniard made his way into the third round of the Australian Open following a 6-3 7-6 6-1 victory over Argentine, Delbonis.
The 33-year-old had dropped just ten games across three previous meetings with Delbonis, and the former Melbourne champion had the Argentine under immediate pressure on Thursday night, forcing five break points in his opening service game. Delbonis escaped with a hold, but the reprieve was temporary as Nadal had his break at the next opportunity. The world No. 1 missed two set points at 5-2, but he served out the set in the next game, finishing off the opener on his fourth set point.
The second set was a lot tighter, partly because of Nadal’s wastefulness on break points. He had nine chances to break, but couldn’t convert any. He eventually got the job done in the tie break to take a two-set lead. By the end of the second set, the top seed was 1/18 on break points.
“I need to play better. Especially I need to convert the break points”.
“But that’s just something that happened today. We don’t need to put a lot of attention on this, no? …. I am confident that I’m going to play better because every day in the third set I have been able to show a good level of tennis. I need to do it before the next time.”
The great man was more ruthless in the third set, converting his two break chances as he surged over the finish line.
Apart from his inability to convert break points, Nadal did most things right on Thursday night. He did not offer up any break points, winning 85% of points on his first serve and 61% on his second. Nadal hit 33 winners and 29 unforced errors, and was a very impressive 17/20 at the net.
Next up for the 19-time major champion is a third-round meeting with compatriot, Pablo Carreno Busta, before a possible fourth-round clash with Nick Kyrgios or Karen Khachanov.