20-time Grand Slam champion and No.2 seed Rafael Nadal stormed his way into his 43rd Major quarterfinal, his 13th alone at the Melbourne Park after he overcame a tricky challenger, Fabio Fognini, in the fourth round on Monday afternoon. Following his fourth straight-sets win in as many contests so far at the Australian Open, the Spaniard, who is chasing his elusive second title down under, will lock horns against the young Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas in their quarterfinal on Wednesday.
Tsitsipas, who overcame a stern resistance from Thanasi Kokkinakis in his second-round match, was fortunate to receive a walkover against an injured Matteo Berrettini in the fourth round, as the Italian pulled out owing to an abdominal strain.
Nadal, who didn’t feature in any of the ATP Cup ties that preceded the opening Slam of the year due to a stiff lower back, has been gradually but surely returning to his full fitness as he hopes to clinch his record-breaking 21st career Major, and thereby overtake Roger Federer in the race for the Grand Slam titles won by a male tennis player. The Spaniard was cautious to start off the blocks at the beginning of the last week, but his relentless opening set against Fognini in the fourth round was an indication that the 2009 Australian Open champion was back to his highest level.
Of the all the Grand Slams, Australian Open has been by the far the Spaniard’s toughest and most painful Major. He lost in the finals on four instances (2012, 2014, 2017, and 2019) after he beat Federer back in 2009 to record his first hard court Major.
While Nadal is yet to drop a set so far en route to his quarterfinal clash, he hasn’t yet faced a stern challenge either. Tsitsipas can hurt Nadal brutally if the Spaniard shows any form of weakness or drop in intensity.
Rafael Nadal vs Stefanos Tsitsipas
The head-to-head record on tour heavily favors the Spaniard, as he leads the 22-year-old Greek 6-1 so far and was the victor on the all the four occasions when he locked horns against Tsitsipas on the hard courts. In their only meeting at the Australian Open, Nadal schooled Tsitsipas in the 2019 semifinal, beating the young Greek 6-2 6-4 6-0. But, two years later, the Greek is a much-improved player. He has lost just two sets in his five wins so far in 2021, and he appears to be in fine form heading into the quarterfinal.
Tsitsipas would aim to defuse Nadal’s heavy forehand with his flashy down the line single-handed backhand. It would indeed be a spectacle to watch if the young Greek can show resilience and courage to match the Spaniard’s intensity and unrelenting ability to fight.
Although Nadal starts as a favorite, the 22-year old Greek can draw huge inspiration from his monumental effort against Novak Djokovic in the semifinal at Roland Garros just a few months ago, when he threatened to upset the Serb after losing the first two sets.
As far as Nadal is concerned, he would be well aware of the threat that Tsitsipas can pose and once again would look forward to shorten the points by relying on his heavy forehand and effective wide serve into the ad-court to Tsitsipas’s backhand in case he finds himself in a precarious position.
A gripping, pulsating, and mouth-watering contest awaits us in the quarterfinal at the Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday as Rafael Nadal and Stefanos Tsitsipas face off to seal a semifinal berth in the opening Slam of the year.
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