Rafael Nadal turned on the style as he cruised into the last 16 of Wimbledon with a 6-1 6-2 6-4 victory over Lorenzo Sonego on Centre Court, and then apologised for calling his opponent to the net to chide him.
After slightly underwhelming performances in previous rounds – against Francisco Cerundolo and Ricardas Berankis respectively - Nadal was back to his brilliant best, dominating his opponent with an energetic and almost faultless display to set up a match with Botic van de Zandschulp in the fourth round.
When asked about the 'spicy' nature of the third set - the Spaniard called his opponent to the net and appeared to tell him to tone down his grunts - Nadal was apologetic, responding: "Sorry, not spicy at all. From the bottom of my heart I didn’t mean it in a negative way.
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"I feel very sorry if I bothered him. I just wanted to tell him something, but I did it in a nice way and now I feel very bad if I really bothered him so I feel very sorry for that.
"I was talking just now to him, and I’m going to talk to him [again]. It’s not a problem I think at all."
The 36-year-old set the tone for the match with a venomous backhand and a couple of volleys as he held to love in consecutive service games, breaking his opponent in just the third game after Sonego overhit a forehand.
Sonego missed an opportunity to break back following two double-faults from Nadal, and it was a chance he would rue as the two-time Wimbledon champion took a commanding 5-1 lead.
Ultimately it took Nadal just over 27 minutes to wrap up the first set – dropping just two service points throughout and finishing with a delightfully dismissive forehand at the net.
Despite cornering his illustrious opponent, Sonego was again broken in the opening set as Nadal thundered a delightful crosscourt winner.
Nadal held service and made it a double break after a couple of unforced errors from the Italian. He was visibly frustrated as he hit a volley long but recovered quickly to make it 4-0.
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With Nadal cruising to his 308th victory at a Grand Slam tournament, Sonego drew the applause from the crowd as he held service for the first time in over an hour – but his joy would not last long, as Nadal held comfortably while pulling out the party tricks, a no-look volley making it 5-1.
The world No.54 responded by holding to love but that was only delaying the inevitable as Nadal closed out the set in comfortable fashion in just 65 minutes, even if Sonego had put up a greater fight than he had done in the first set.
Nadal was producing some of his best tennis and was in no mood to waste any time, breaking in the first game of the third set. But Sonego was digging deep, determined to make a fight of it and he earned a much-needed confidence boost, holding to love and closing to 2-3.
Despite a much-improved performance in the third set, the Italian repeatedly asked for the lights to be turned on, a request that was initially turned down before the officials eventually gave in and closed the roof with Nadal leading 4-2.
The decision and the subsequent delay left Nadal furious, and the momentum immediately shifted, as he lost his service game to love and Sonego consolidated to restore parity in the set.
Things were heating up as Nadal complained that the Italian made a noise before hitting his shot, with the players having a word with each other at the net.
But he quickly regained his composure by breaking Sonego's serve once more and held superbly to see out the match.
The win means Nadal has now reached the last 16 in each of the last 20 Grand Slams he has played in.
“Well [it was] probably my best match without a doubt in the championship, I think against probably the most difficult player I have faced," Nadal told the BBC at the conclusion.
"I have been able to raise my level a lot [so I’m] super happy about that. I’m wishing Lorenzo all the very best for the rest of the season. I think he’s a great player here on grass. Last year he made the fourth round and this year he got a good result again so I think he’s got a great future here."
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Watch daily highlights from Wimbledon at 10pm on Eurosport 2 and discovery+ from June 27, as well as the two singles finals live on July 9 and 10.
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