Hours after reigning champion Novak Djokovic crashed out of the Australian Open on Thursday, Rafael Nadal raised hopes of filling the power vacuum after demolishing Marcos Baghdatis 6-3 6-1 6-3 to reach the third round.
Djokovic loomed as a potential semi-final opponent for Nadal but the Serb’s five-set upset by wildcard Denis Istomin shook up the draw and left the Spaniard as the sole grand slam champion in the bottom half.
Nadal has had two lean years at the majors, but on the same Rod Laver Arena where Djokovic fell to Istomin, the 14-times major champion showed enough of the old passion and firepower to suggest he may yet go deep in the second week at Melbourne Park.
Nadal needed only two hours and 13 minutes to defeat Cypriot Baghdatis, whose run to the 2006 final as an unseeded 20-year-old is part of Australian Open folklore.
The 31-year-old Baghdatis saved two match points but Nadal closed out the one-sided contest with a smoking cross-court forehand, his 32nd winner for the match, and punched the air in triumph as the terraces roared.
Nadal, 30, faces German talent Alexander Zverev next, a player tipped for a big future in the game.