Rafael Nadal served a flawless first set and never relented, roaring to a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Fabio Fognini in Tuesday's fourth-round match at the 2014 Sony Open.
The Miami Masters event is one that Nadal's prolific contemporaries in Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have all won multiple times, but the Spanish superstar has never triumphed at this tournament.
If his romp over Fognini forecasts what's to come, the top-seeded Nadal could very well find himself winning this year's title. A matchup with Milos Raonic now awaits in the quarterfinals.
Usually, a perfect 16-0 mark is associated with a team going undefeated for an entire NFL regular season. Nadal put his own spin on that statistic by winning all 16 of his points on serve in the opening set, as Fognini was befuddled by Nadal's power and topspin, which is accentuated on the hard courts.
With the wear and tear Nadal has had on his knees, shortening points against a clearly inferior opponent on the grueling surface is a sound strategy. It worked wonders on Tuesday, and it helped that Nadal seized momentum early by breaking Fognini on the first and third games of the match.
That deficit demoralized Fognini to the point that he couldn't even begin to make this showdown with Nadal the least bit competitive.
Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times was disappointed that Fognini came out so flat:
Rafael Nadal routs Fabio Fognini 6-2, 6-2. Disappointing effort from Fognini, and sadly not the first one.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) March 26, 2014
Nadal only dropped three points on serve in the second set and also won 22 of 48 return points over the course of two sets. Courtney Nguyen of Sports Illustrated reported that the crowd booed Fognini as he exited:
Rafael Nadal beats Fabio Fognini 62 62 in 62 minutes. Nadal loses just three points on his serve. The boos rain down as Fognini leaves.— Beyond The Baseline (@SI_BTBaseline) March 26, 2014
Injury may have played at least somewhat of a role in Fognini's lackluster effort. Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim noted how a trainer was watching Fognini as the Italian limped around the court trailing 5-1:
Nadal up 5-1 ...fognini moving gingerly ....trainer in the tunnel...could be an early evening— Jon Wertheim (@jon_wertheim) March 26, 2014
This excellent display from Nadal was similar to the way he dismantled Denis Istomin in the previous match, where he dropped just one game. Even though Nadal was assessed a slow-play warning, he didn't let that faze him and was pleased with his execution.
"I played a very complete match," Nadal told reporters. "No match is perfect but I did a lot of things very well. No mistakes, serving with good percentage, and playing a lot of winners."
ESPN's Chris Fowler provided his analysis on Nadal's recent form:
One could copy and paste those comments to tell the story of what Nadal did against Fognini. It may not have been exactly perfect by Nadal's extraordinary standards, but it was about as close as it gets.
Raonic presents an interesting challenge for Nadal at the next stage. The young Canadian has a booming serve and a massive forehand, but has lacked the consistency to legitimately challenge the very elite in men's tennis.
Since it seems there's a hex on Nadal at Crandon Park, perhaps Raonic can go for broke with that in mind and try to serve and volley his way to an upset.
With the way Nadal is playing right now, though, it's difficult to imagine anyone denying him a bite of the trophy by the end of this prestigious tournament.