By Greg Stutchbury
Third seed Rafa Nadal battled through mid-match cramps for more than an hour before he lurched into the third round of the Australian Open with a 6-2 3-6 6-7(2) 6-3 7-5 victory over American qualifier Tim Smyzcek on Wednesday.
Nadal’s performance dropped away drastically in the second set as he sweated profusely and took his time between changeovers before calling for the doctor early in the third set.
“I don’t know what was going on,” the 14-time grand slam champion said in a courtside interview. “There was imitation, I started to have cramps in different places. I was not in the perfect shape.”
Nadal, who was reportedly bitten by a mosquito under his eye while practising for the match, took some medication during the timeout but could not stop Smyzcek cantering through the third set tiebreak.
As fears mounted around Rod Laver Arena that the third seed could suffer an early exit, the man who has a 16-5 record in five-set marathons battled back to open a 5-2 lead in the fourth set before dragging Smyzcek into a decider.
The fifth set went on serve until Nadal finally broke the resistance of Smyzcek, whose scrambling game resembles that of former top-five player David Ferrer, in the 11th game before wrapping up the win on his fourth match point.
He will next play Israel’s Dudi Sela.