The first semi-final at this year’s Australian Open will feature Rafa Nadal and Matteo Berrettini, the sixth and seventh seed in Melbourne respectively, after both players survived five set quarter-final matches having led their opponents by two-sets to love.
Of course, in the beginning of the fifth set ... I was very worried. But more than [that], I thought [it was] going to be super difficult to win that match. But here I am ... it’s amazing news, no? Rafa Nadal
Berrettini, playing in the evening on the Rod Laver Arena, made a remarkable recovery in the fifth to defeat the French entertainer Gael Monfils 6-4 6-4 3-6 3-6 6-2 to reach the last four of a major for the third time.
Earlier Nadal was made to work hard by fellow leftie Denis Shapovalov before progressing to his seventh AO semi-final, 6-3 6-4 4-6 3-6 6-3 and maintain his dominance over the Canadian.
But Nadal’s victory was marred by a stomach problem during the match and he could well have bowed out at the quarter-final stage for a third consecutive year but for treatment he received at the end of the fourth set.
Now he is two matches away from claiming his second AO title and 21st Grand Slam singles trophy which Novak Djokovic was so desperate to win in his efforts to become the GOAT of tennis.
Currently, the Serb and Spaniard sit on 20 titles apiece as does Roger Federer.
On Tuesday, Nadal cruised through the first two sets against Shapovalov, who could not hide his frustration after dropping the opener.
He lost the first set after40-minutes and his cool to berate the umpire early in the second as Nadal’s pace of play left him accusing the chair umpires of being ‘corrupt’.
With the temperature upwards of 30 degrees and the sun beating down on the Rod Laver Arena, Shapovalov grew frustrated at the 20-time grand slam champion’s deliberate approach to the game.
“You started the clock so long ago and he’s still not ready to play,” Shapovalov pointed out to the umpire who in turn informed him: “He’s not ready to play.”
When umpire Carlos Bernardes told him that he also was not in a position to start, he responded: “What do you mean I’m not ready to play?
“Are you kidding me? You guys are all corrupt, you guys are all corrupt.”
A similar situation arose a few games later but Shapovalov was proved wrong when the shot clock still showed seven seconds left!
The match was delayed while the two players and umpire had a conversation but if Shapovalov was hoping to disrupt Nadal it didn’t work for the Spaniard rolled on to go two sets up.
But the tide turned and the 22-year-old Canadian set about to become only the third player to ever turn a match around in his favour after losing the opening two sets against Nadal. And he nearly did after levelling the match a two-sets-all.
By this time Nadal was tiring and his stomach problems were proving a distraction and after receiving medical attention, he returned to quickly gain a break and despite all Shapovalov’s efforts, he couldn’t break down the Mallorcan’s defences, capitulating after just over four hours of play.
“We can create history but the real thrill is that two months ago we didn’t know if we could be able to get back on tour. For me, this is a present of life to be playing tennis again and I am just enjoying it,” Nadal said after his win.
“I don’t hope [for] anything. I just keep going,” he told reporters. “In terms of what can happen in the future, honestly I really don’t care that much.
“I’m not going to be frustrated if Novak or Roger finishes their careers with more Grand Slams than me, no? I mean, let’s enjoy the situation that we did, every one of us, we did very special things in our sport.”
From being worried his career was in jeopardy a couple of months ago as he struggled to recover from a foot problem, Nadal will contest his 36th Grand Slam semi-final on Friday.
“I was destroyed, honestly, physically,” said Nadal, who then reminded everyone that he wasn’t 21 anymore.
“But my serve worked well, and for me, every game that I was winning with my serve was a victory.
“Of course, in the beginning of the fifth set … I was very worried. But more than [that], I thought [it was] going to be super difficult to win that match. But here I am … it’s amazing news, no?”
History may not have been on Berrettini’s mind but he became the first Italian to reach the semi-finals at the Australian Open, but he needed all his resources and energy to defeat a rejuvenated Monfils.
“It feels unbelievable and hopefully tomorrow is gonna be a second one (Italian Jannik Sinner who is playing Stefanos Tsitsipas in the top half of the draw),” Berrettini said.
“I’m really happy for myself. What a great fight again against Gael. A great match, lot of emotions. I thought I had him in the third and then I found myself in the fifth.
“I really fought hard and I put everything on court. That’s what I said to myself. And that’s why I’m really happy.”
It took the 25-year-old, who reached last year’s final at Wimbledon, three hours and 49-minutes with the clock closing in on 1.00 am local time, to seal the win on his third match point.