Rafael Nadal beats an impressive Cameron Norrie to reach the Australian Open fourth round and end British interest in the singles.
Spanish second seed Nadal was able to see off his spirited 69th-ranked opponent 7-5 6-2 7-5.
Playing on an empty Rod Laver Arena after Melbourne entered lockdown, Nadal was not at his rhythmic best but he held off a confident-looking Norrie.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion will play Italy’s Fabio Fognini next.
Norrie claimed the first break of the match and hung in well against Nadal, but there was no stopping the Spaniard when he upped his tempo.
Nadal showed occasional hints on serve of a back problem that has bothered him since his arrival in Australia but he moved and hit freely.
“I combined very good games with a couple of unforced errors that I need to fix,” Nadal said.
“That is normal and hopefully that will help me for what’s coming on Monday,” Nadal added.
Nadal has yet to drop a set in Melbourne despite being, by his own admission, not near his best.
Norrie played well, saving six of the 12 break points he faced, but although he would get to 0-30 on the Nadal serve he could not find a way through.
His early break was cancelled out straight away by Nadal and a tight first set ended with a long forehand from the British number three.
He was able to hang in with Nadal on the long rallies, saving break points to start the second and third set, but Nadal’s extra pace, particularly on the forehand, broke through his defences.
Nadal grew frustrated at times with the odd shot drifting long, but he was able to up his quality when it mattered to win in two hours 15 minutes.
Norrie was the last Briton standing in the singles for a second Grand Slam in a row, after he reached the third round of the US Open in September.
There are still British hopes in the doubles, led by Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury, and the wheelchair events, which start on Sunday.
Nadal hopeful crowd can return
It was a shame for Norrie that there was no crowd present for his first meeting with one of the sport’s ‘big three’ – Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.
Up to 30,000 fans a day were allowed in Melbourne Park for the first five days of the Grand Slam, before the state of Victoria went into lockdown for five days from Saturday.
Crowds were asked to leave the Rod Laver Arena at 23.30 local time on Friday, with only support staff and match officials allowed in the stadiums.
Crowd numbers had slowly grown over the five days and Australian Nick Kyrgios said they were crucial in getting him over the line in his second-round match against Ugo Humbert.
Speaking about playing in front of no fans, Nadal said: “The feeling is completely different. Nobody wants this, but it’s not the time to forget about the situation we’re facing.
“Australia is one of the best examples in the world [for their Covid-19 response] so maximum respect for what they have been doing and hopefully the situation will improve and the crowd can come back before the end.”
World number one and home favourite Ashleigh Barty, who did not play at the tournaments last year that were played behind closed doors as she did not travel because of the coronavirus pandemic, said she quite enjoyed the silence of the stadium.
“You can narrow your focus in to listen to the sound of the ball,” Barty explained after her win over Ekaterina Alexandrova.
“It doesn’t change anything for me. It was something I have never experienced before. It was new and I almost had to cut myself some slack and give myself the time to get used to it.”