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Tennis | Wimbledon

Juan Martin del Potro © Gallo Images

Nadal, Djokovic and Del Potro through



Never mind the tennis, there was only one thing Rafael Nadal cared about after he completed a hat-trick of straight-set wins to reach the fourth round of Wimbledon on Saturday.

"I'll go and watch some football. What's going on? - England, it's coming home or not?" asked the sweat-drenched Spaniard with a grin moments after handing baby-faced Australian Alex de Minaur a 6-1 6-2 6-4 roasting.

The Alicante-based 19-year-old played his part in an entertaining duel as he chased after everything Nadal could throw at him - and in turn kept the Spaniard on Centre Court longer than he would have liked.

But the world number one, chasing a third title at the All England Club, stuck to his own game plan to ensure he reached the second week of the grasscourt major without dropping a set.

Nadal has endured his fair share of losing to young upstarts at Wimbledon, having lost to players ranked 100 or lower in four of his five previous appearances, but there was no danger of that happening on Saturday.

His main target appeared to be getting off court before the 3pm local time kickoff of England's World Cup quarterfinal showdown with Sweden.

De Minaur made him play 26-minutes of extra time but the final result was never in doubt and a lunging volley winner sealed the win - and prompted a mass exodus from Centre Court as fans rushed to watch the football on their phones and tablets elsewhere in the grounds. England won 2-0.

"A positive match against a player who is very young with a lot of energy, some tough moments in the beginning. Some tough moments in the third but happy to be through," said Nadal, whose win also ensured that he would retain the number one ranking at the end of the tournament.

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The 32-year-old won the opening set in 33 minutes, and it would have been much quicker had he not needed five break points in a 12-minute fourth game to break the Wimbledon debutant for a 3-1 lead.

Nadal was at his brutal best in the second set as he did not drop any points on serve until the final game.

TRICKSHOT EXCHANGE

There he chased down a De Minaur lob to the baseline and with his back to the net, swiped the ball between his legs to lob the Australian. But the teenager tracked the ball as it sailed over his head, made a u-turn as he, too, dashed to the baseline to repeat the between-the-legs shot - only to see his effort get tangled at the bottom of the net.

The trickshot exchange gave De Minaur reason to believe he could trouble Nadal and so it proved to be as he earned two break points just moments later - only to see both disappear and Nadal seal a two-set lead thanks to a backhand error from the Australian.

Whereas Nadal had trouble reading Mikhail Kukushkin's formidable forehand just two days ago, on Saturday he was seeing the ball like a football and rattled off 30 winners, including eight volleys.

For world number 80 De Minaur, who was aged six when Nadal won the first of his 17 Grand Slam titles at the French Open in 2005, Saturday's experience proved to be priceless.

"To play on Centre Court against Rafa, that's something that I will remember forever," said De Minaur, whose ranking has shot up almost 130 spots since the start of the year.

"Obviously you watch him on TV, and you can't really appreciate how hard he hits every single ball and how much intensity and just brute force goes into every one of his ground strokes. I took it all in today.

"I can hopefully one day have the same presence that Rafa does when he's out there."

The Spaniard will next play Jiri Vesely from the Czech Republic as he bids to reach the Wimbledon quarterfinals for the first time since finishing runner-up to Novak Djokovic in 2011.

DJOKOVIC HITS BACK

Three-time champion Novak Djokovic silenced a raucous Centre Court crowd as he came back to beat home favourite Kyle Edmund 4-6 6-3 6-2 6-4 in the third round.

Briton Edmund was riding a wave of euphoria generated by England's World Cup quarterfinal win against Sweden as he outplayed the Serbian former world number one in the first set.

But 31-year-old Djokovic, who in the 2013 final lost to Andy Murray in a similarly frenzied atmosphere, snapped out of his torpor and took charge once he broke in a pivotal seventh game of the second set.

He dominated the third set and although 21st seed Edmund was competitive again in the fourth, Djokovic broke at 4-4 and then clinically held serve for victory -- applying the seal to an impressive display with an ace down the middle.

Djokovic proved he still has the old fire in his belly too when he reacted furiously at 3-3 in the fourth when Edmund scrambled up a low ball for a winner despite replays clearly showing the ball had bounced twice.

While the 12-times Grand Slam champion is still not quite back to his best after a difficult year blighted by an elbow injury, he must now be considered a genuine threat.

"He became more and more dangerous and showed of his old self," former champion John McEnroe, commentating for the BBC, said. "The intensity and the desire were there."

The Serb, seeded 12th, will face powerful Russian youngster Karen Khachanov for a place in the quarterfinals.

"It was tough, Edmund is playing really well, he won our last encounter on clay," Djokovic said of the man who has replaced the injured Murray as Britain's top dog, said.

"He has just improved a lot in his game, especially the backhand side. The forehand we know is a big weapon, and he is serving better. Losing the first set was not an ideal situation for me but somehow (I) managed to come back."

EARLY DOMINANCE

Edmund used his blowtorch forehand to great effect in the opening set and was the dominant player early on.

Feeding off the energy of a crowd still buzzing from events in Russia, he summoned up four break points in the seventh game -- converting the fourth with a brilliantly-constructed point which ended with both players at close quarters.

The deafening roar that went around the arena was surpassed a few games later when Edmund took the opening set with a beefy serve down the middle.

Djokovic was wobbling but showed his old survival instincts and hung tough in the second set.

At 3-3 Edmund saved three break points, one with a sublime running forehand, but Britain's new number one coughed up a double fault to give Djokovic the break.

Djokovic carried his momentum into the third set and broke in the first game -- bellowing a guttural roar of his own as Edmund hooked a forehand long.

Edmund regrouped in the fourth set and when he saved serve at 3-3, thanks to a moment of controversy, it looked as though he could still drag the match into a decider.

The 23-year-old buckled in his next service game at 4-4, framing a forehand out to open the door for Djokovic to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the 44th time -- second on the all-time list behind Roger Federer.

Edmund's defeat means there will be no Brits in the second week of the singles competition at Wimbledon.

DEL POTRO GOES THROUGH

Fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro overcame service troubles and Benoit Paire's fine serve-and-volley game to beat the Frenchman 6-4 7-6(4) 6-3 on Court Two and reach the fourth round for the fourth time.

The big Argentine world number four, who has yet to drop a set, looked on for a routine win before meeting sterner resistance in the second set from Paire, who delighted the crowd with his drop shots and a break of serve to go 4-2 up.

Del Potro, a semifinalist in 2013, immediately broke back after a slip by Paire and fears he might have hurt his heavily bandaged left knee, but the Frenchman resumed and saw the set through to the tiebreak, but lost it 7-4.

The 47th-ranked Paire, who reached the fourth round last year and won his only previous meeting with Del Potro in Rome in 2013, said he had a minor cartilage problem but the bandage was for security and he had felt no pain.

"You have to be good to beat Paire, he's dangerous and I was lucky in the tiebreak," said Del Potro.

He added that his two-handed backhand has improved a lot after the difficulties he had with it following wrist surgery.

"It's almost good, I have no pain. I'm hitting more often with the two-handed backhand, which is good for my whole game.

"On this surface, I can mix it up with the slices and hit hard when I have the chance to make a winner with a two-handed backhand. I think I am improving all my game when I have also my backhand working good. It's pretty important for me."

Del Potro, looking for a second Grand Slam title after the US Open in 2009, marched into a 3-0 lead in the deciding set only to allow Paire back to 3-3 with a broken service game that included three double faults.

However, the Argentine, who had problems throughout the match serving into the sun at the northern end of the court, broke again and took it in straight sets after a brief hold-up while officials helped a person who had fainted in the crowd.

"The sun bothered me quite a bit, from one end of the court it was very difficult to serve, it was difficult to find the exact spots to place the ball," he said.

"But, well, I won in three sets and that's important for my fitness, despite not serving as well as the other day," he added referring to his win over Feliciano Lopez on Thursday.

Del Potro faces another very different Frenchman, Gilles Simon, in the fourth round.

"Simon is a very smart player, he likes to play from the baselie with long rallies. I need to be prepared for that, to be accurate down the lines," Del Potro said.

VETERAN GULBIS UPSETS SVEREV IN FIVE SETS

Former world number 10 Ernests Gulbis became the first qualifier to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon since Brian Baker in 2012 when he upset fourth seed Alexander Zverev 7-6(2) 4-6 5-7 6-3 6-0.

The 29-year-old Latvian, a one-time training partner of Zverev's brother Mischa, handed the young German a lesson in perseverance and solid shot-making to reach the fourth round for the first time after 11 attempts.

"It's been a great match for me. I didn't think I could win after losing the third set and having served for the set, but he got tired and I played smarter," said Gulbis, who had only won one tour level match all year -- in the first round of the French Open -- and was ranked 138 after struggling with injuries.

"It comes from practising, playing qualifying here, getting some wins. I also qualified for Paris. It's not easy, but when you do it gives you some confidence," added Gulbis, who reached his highest ranking of 10 in 2014.

Zverev, who won a five setter against American Taylor Fritz from 2-1 down in the previous round, failed to improve on his best at Wimbledon last year when he also went out in the third round.

The 21-year-old German had the better of an even opening set that went with serve but Gulbis turned the tables in the tiebreak to take it 7-2.

Zverev came back in the next two sets but when it looked like Gulbis would not last the pace, he broke to go 4-2 up in the fourth and took the wind out of his opponent's sails.

Gulbis won the final set to love in a denouement reminiscent of Zverev's five set defeat by South Korean Hyeon Chung in the third round of the Australian Open where he also suffered a fifth-set bagel.

Zverev had suffered from a stomach bug during his match with Fritz.

RAONIC SEALS PLACE IN LAST 16

Former runner-up Milos Raonic returned in a better frame of mind to finish off Austrian qualifier Dennis Novak and book his place in the fourth round.

The Canadian had split the first two sets on Friday and was 6-5 ahead when play was suspended because of fading light.

When play resumed on a stifling Court 12, the 13th seed quickly polished off the third set with a break of serve and dominated the fourth to claim a 7-6(5) 4-6 7-5 6-2 victory.

It was fourth time in five years that Raonic had reached the fourth round at Wimbledon.

"I came out with a very different mindset," Raonic told reporters. "I was extremely negative yesterday and just needed to come out with a very different state of mind and different approach today to have a better chance.

"I was extremely passive yesterday."

Raonic, who was runner-up to Andy Murray in 2016, will face American Mackenzie McDonald in the last 16 on Monday.

"He's obviously had good wins through these last three matches here," Raonic said. "It's going to be tough.

"I'll have to stay aggressive and try to dictate more to the rhythm of today rather than yesterday."



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