Nadal has a tricky day

At the start of Day Eight, the Italians had the prospect of possibly seeing two of their own reach the quarter-finals at the AO but fate and Rafa Nadal had other ideas.

Happy to be in the quarter-final, positive start,. When you play round of 16 against a great player like Fabio they are always fighting. You can't expect to go on court and not have some problems facing these types of players. Rafa Nadal

Fabio Fognini, the 16th seed, was the first to attempt to clear the hurdle for a place in the last eight but, as many before him – especially this past week – Nadal proved too big an obstacle.

The world number two from Spain, who has yet to lose a set at Melbourne this year kept that record intact against the fiery Italian, winning 6-3 6-4 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena.

It is his 43rd grand slam quarter-final and the 13th time he has reached that stage at Melbourne where he hopes to win his second Australian Open title having won there in 2009.

Going into the match Nadal led 12-4 as far as previous victories were concerned, and despite some lower back problems he has carried this past fortnight, looked sharp in what was a bit of a scrappy affair.

While his serve wasn’t at its best, his returning was above par creating 19 break point opportunities although he only converted six of them and was outhit by Fognini when it came to winners, the Italian hitting 32 to the Spaniard’s 24.

While he lept into 3-0 lead in the opening set, Nadal was obviously wary of the wily Italian who is one of the two players to have beaten the Mallorcan in five sets by coming back from two sets to love down, and he had reason to.

Fognini broke back only to drop serve again and then had to save three set points before conceding the opening set.

He remained wary of Fognini and lifted his game in the second and third sets to avoid any repeat of the 2015 U.S. Open when Fognini did his Houdini act.

There was no chance this time.

In the second the pair went toe-to-toe until Fognini broke through for 4-2 following an uncharacteristic Nadal forehand error from the baseline.

Both players were struggling on serve with Nadal earning five break points in the next game, finally converting and then saving three on his own service game.

But as Fognini’s error-count began creeping up, Nadal broke once more and made no mistake to wrap up the set.

Nadal ensured there wouldn’t be a five-set comeback by upping his game in the third and pressing Fognini who was rapidly fading, unable to prevent the second seed from clearing the finish line with aplomb, an ace.

The result keeps him on track to meet top seed Novak Djokovic in the final, with the Serb, who is carrying an abdominal injury, into his 12th quarter-final after seeing off the threat of Milos Raonic on Sunday evening.

“Happy to be in the quarter-final, positive start,” said Nadal, who is chasing his 21st major title and sole ownership of the men’s record, which he currently shares with Federer

“When you play round of 16 against a great player like Fabio they are always fighting. You can’t expect to go on court and not have some problems facing these types of players.”

And when asked about his back problems, he assure everyone that all was well. “I’m happy the back is holding better,” he said.

The injury, which he rarely refers to and never elaborates on when asked, obviously had the trainers on their toes for midway through the match, two came striding onto the court to attend to him.

Arriving at his chair they asked what was wrong only to discover he hadn’t called for them.

He laughed and smiling broadly said: “I didn’t ask for a medic!” adding “Not me, sorry!”

The confusion was quickly clarified – the medics had come to the wrong court!

It wasn’t the only incident which Nadal had to endure for earlier, he had been stopped from entering an out of bounds area at Melbourne Park.

And then, during his post-match press conference, he inadvertently released the news that his next opponent would be Stefanos Tsitsipas who was still due to play the 9th seeded Matteo Berrettini.

“I need to make another step forward against Tsitsipas,” he said responding to a question regarding his next match and then realised he might have spoken out of turn as the match was still to be played.

“Is it official? He’ll play tonight… OK. Well, I don’t know, maybe,” he said attempting to play down his error.

“I think I heard that Berrettini was a little bit injured but not official at all.”

He apologised with a sheepish grin saying: “Sorry for that… but yeah, something… well, I messed it up,” he said as the room laughed at his discomfiture.

“Was not my fault,” he declared.

Not long after that the news of Berrettini’s withdrawal was confirmed the Italian citing an abdominal injury which he had picked up in his third-round victory over Karen Khachanov.

Tsitsipas, with an extra days rest, will be in a strong position to emulate his last four appearance at Melbourne two years ago, the only time he has reached a grand slam semi-final to date.

Stefanos Tsitsipas has an extra day off after receiving a walkover.

Mackenzie Sweetnam/Getty Images



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