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Rampant Rafa Fends Off Comeback From Flamboyant Monfils

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January 23, 2017

Rafael Nadal has reached the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam for the first time since 2014. Now he faces Milos Raonic, who beat him only a few weeks ago.

Gael Monfils provided sparkling entertainment as always. And he probably should have taken Nadal to a fifth set, at which point anything could have happened.

But for some reason the Frenchman couldn’t maintain his comeback, just when he was beginning to make Nadal look ordinary. Monfils was 4-2 up in the fourth and looked capable of anything.

Ever the fighter, Nadal dug in and rode out the storm. Then he took his chances and hit back whenever his enigmatic opponent showed the slightest sign of self-doubt.

Even so, the Spaniard was clearly a relieved man to emerge the victor by 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. Afterwards Rafa said: ‘Gael is a special player, he plays unbelievable shots and he’s one of the more charismatic players without a doubt.’

‘I didn’t play my best game at times but I knew if I came back in the fourth I would have my chances. I’m very happy to be in the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam again after a couple of years – especially here, in Australia, where I feel a little bit like home, with the crowd always supporting me.’

They are likely to do so again during his next test, against the ever-improving Canadian, Raonic. Rafa knows how well he will have to play. ‘Very, very well. He beat me a couple of weeks ago in Brisbane, he’s a top player with an amazing serve. I’ll have to serve very well myself and then wait for my opportunities.’

Nadal ovecame Monfils by staying solid, despite all the flashy fireworks coming from the racquet of the super-talented Monfils. The man who lost, hit by far the most winners, a massive 52 to Rafa’s 21. But Monfils also made an outrageous 64 unforced errors to Nadal’s 27.

The statistics didn’t lie. Monfils was determined to play high-risk tennis at every turn. And he managed to fire down one serve of 224 kph, or 139 mph.  However, he often hit the ball harder than he needed to and missed the lines at key moments. There seemed to be a complete absence of strategy to his game, except to go for it at every opportunity once he fell behind.

Leaping volleys and smashes, forehands hit with stunning power, Gael’s unrivalled athleticism and sheer force was leaving Nadal in the shade. But he couldn’t conjure that magic with sufficient consistency – and Rafa stayed in the zone to overcome everything that was thrown at him.

Meanwhile, the women’s draw is wide open after Angelique Kerber was knocked out by Coco Vandeweghe, and Serena Williams looked less than convincing in her 7-5, 6-4 victory over Barbora Strycova.  Williams dropped her first two serves and didn’t display the commanding confidence that saw her dominate our sport for so long.

Johanna Konta, the battling Brit who provides Serena’s next opposition, will fancy her chances of pulling off an upset against Williams. And with Venus Williams also in the quarter-final draw, having got there without even dropping a set, it looks like the business end of the women’s singles tournament will be truly fascinating.

Can Serena take her 23rd Grand Slam singles title and break clear of the legendary German, Steffi Graf? The next few days might just tell us whether history can be made, or whether Serena will have to wait until the European summer before making a fresh attempt at sporting immortality.


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