February 15, 2021
Rafael Nadal is ready to play his thirteenth Australian Open quarter-final.
He’ll face a super-fresh Stefanos Tsitsipas in yet another peach of a tie at the Australian Open.
It’s just the sort of sumptuous match-up we can expect when it’s the turn of Wimbledon 2021 to entertain the world.
For now, the more Grand Slam experience Tsitsipas gets, the more likely he is to go deep at the All England Club.
The Greek didn’t have to play his round-of-sixteen match because Matteo Berrettini was forced to withdraw due to an abdominal strain.
It was sad news for the Italian, who would have given Tsitsipas a run for his money.
Berrettini said: ‘I had a problem with my ab and the doctors told me if I play it could get worse, so it’s not worth it.’
But the extra rest will leave Stefanos full of energy. If he can draw out his much-anticipated clash with Nadal in sweltering Melbourne heat, the Spaniard’s extra match might come into play. Particularly given Rafa’s recent back problems.
Even before he knew the precise identity of his opponent, or indeed that one potential candidate would be forced to step aside, Nadal said: ‘Stefanos and Berrettini are both young and strong with a lot of energy.’
Nadal will still start as favourite. Mentally he is in a good place.
He explained: ‘I’m just happy to have won my match. It’s an important victory for my confidence and I’m happy that my back is holding.’
Nadal avoided too much drama in a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over Fabio Fognini.
Rafa did falter in the second set and was 2-4 down. He also saved three successive break points later in the set.
But no challenge seems too great for Nadal these days.
He explained: ‘Against a player like Fabio, you are worried every moment. You can’t expect not to have problems. When he broke me in the second set, I was lucky to break back and then that 0-40 was the key. I’ll just keep going and I’m happy to be in the quarter-finals.’
We know what to expect from Nadal. This is his 43rd Grand Slam quarter-final in all. Much will depend on which Tsitsipas turns up.
The swashbuckling, highly-aggressive and super-confident Tsitsipas could pull off a shock.
Any doubts, loss of discipline or concentration from Stefanos will see him punished swiftly, you feel.
The men’s quarter-final draw as a whole is intriguing. We’ve already highlighted the other plumb tie between Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev.
There is also an all-Russian showdown between Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev. And there will be a fascinating face-off between surprise packages Grigor Dimitrov and Aslan Karatsev.
Ultimately Djokovic v Nadal is still on the cards further down the line.
Meanwhile home favourite Ash Barty sailed through her latest tricky test against the in-form American, Shelby Rogers. Barty made it look relatively easy overall as she beat Rogers 6-3, 6-4.
There were nervous moments towards the end as Barty squandered two match points and was surprisingly broken. But she soon squashed that attempted comeback to book her third successive quarter-final in Melbourne.
Barty said. ‘It’s really exciting to be through to another quarter-final. I love being at home and being in Australia.’
It’s all happening at the Aussie Open. Grand Slams never disappoint. And you can still make it to Wimbledon 2021 – the greatest of them all.