De Minaur downs Nadal - on the king of clay's own court

Alex de Minaur is savouring a "once in a lifetime" triumph after beating the king of clay Rafael Nadal on what may well have been the great man's final appearance on his own court at the Barcelona Open.

Nadal wasn't at his sharpest on his tentative return to action after injury in only his second tournament in 15 months, but nothing should detract from how de Minaur outplayed the 12-time champion on the Pista Rafa Nadal at the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona on Wednesday.

De Minaur was rapid, ruthless and relentless in his 7-5 6-1 win and even if this, of course, wasn't the all-conquering Nadal of old, the 37-year-old is still a hell of a force on the red clay and Australia's No.1 played a supreme match, consigning the Spanish colossus to death by drop shot. 

Going where no Australian had been before him by becoming the first in 13 attempts ever to beat Nadal on clay, de Minaur acknowledged what a special day it had been.

"When the draw came out, I probably wasn’t too keen on playing Rafa, but I turned my attitude around and looked at it like a huge opportunity, a once in a lifetime opportunity,” De Minaur said. “I’m extremely happy that I was able to get the win.

“I’m very, very fortunate I didn’t play Rafa a couple years earlier on the clay. It would have been very, very different result. An amazing experience and we move on. It’s been a great year.”

For Nadal, though, it may be the last match he ever plays on the court named in his honour in what's set to be the final season of his glorious career. 

De Minaur showed the utmost respect in applauding and not over-celebrating before Nadal soaked up a standing ovation on leaving the arena.

But on the very first point of the match, when de Minaur slipped in an unanswerable drop shot, it had been clear there was no room for sentiment here.

He repeated the shot five times successfully in just the first three games alone to get his venerable and vulnerable opponent on the run, breaking Nadal's delivery in the first game and four times subsequently.

"I think about the only thing I might have on Rafa on clay is physicality at this stage of his career," de Minaur said. "I decided to try and make the rallies quite physical and long, use my speed to my advantage. It’s never easy against him."

Nadal's old majesty saw him battle back into the fray in the first set but there were too many unforced mistakes emanating from his rusty racquet - 42 in all - for him to threaten.

At one point in the first set, a flashing forehand winner at full stretch off a Nadal howitzer had the Spaniard tapping his racquet in appreciation as he recognised how this new version of de Minaur, who'd beaten him in the United Cup on a hard court last year, is now a threat on any surface.

The key game came at 5-5 when de Minaur went on the attack and broke to love, before going on to serve out the set after a run of 11 unanswered winning points. 

By early in the second set, Nadal looked frazzled and well beaten by the Australian, who will play rising 16th seed Arthur Fils or German Daniel Altmaier in the last-16.

On a good day for the Sydneysiders, Jordan Thompson also made it into the round of 16, defeating Spain's clay-court specialist Jaume Munar 6-4 2-6 6-4. Up next for him is Norway's third seed, Casper Ruud.

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