The Spanish Bull is on the move
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With Rafa Nadal joining Roger Federer in the quarter finals of the Australian Open, the possibility that they both might end up contesting the actual Final itself on Sunday, is getting closer.
Sometimes it's tough to play against Gael when you don't know what he's going to do. He combines mistakes with great shots
Both would like to add to their tally of grand slam titles, though neither expected after their absence from the tour during the latter part of last year expected to be in contention during the final stages of this seasonÈs first major.
But thanks to the absence of both the world number one Andy Murray and the defending champion Novak Djokovic, who were knocked out last week, the players who between them hold 31 grand slam titles, are now very much in the running.
Their respective fitnessÈs could prove vital as evidenced by Nadal having to struggle through his win against Gael Monfils who at first was very much on the back foot. But when the Frenchman secured the third set, it could have gone either way before the Spanish icon regrouped to secure his place in the last eight 6-3 6-3 4-6 6-4 after nearly three hours, where he will face the attacking serve-and-volley game of Mischa Zvererv, the German ranked 50 who eliminated the top seed yesterday.
"I’m very happy being in the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam after a couple of years without being there," the Spanish Bull, holder of 14 Grand Slam titles said after he reached his 30th grand slam quarter-final. "It’s very special for me, especially here in Australia where I feel (it’s) a little bit like home, adding: "I start the season playing quarter-finals in a Grand Slam again, especially on hard court after a couple of years without being in this round which is great news."
Reflecting on his vanquished opponent, Nadal continued: "Gael is a special player. He is able to play unbelievable shots. It is a pleasure to see him in the top rankings.
"Sometimes it’s tough to play against Gael when you don’t know what he’s going to do. He combines mistakes with great shots."
And looking ahead to his next match where he leads the big serving Canadian Milos Raonic 6-2, concluded: "He’s an opponent that makes you feel that you’re playing with a lot of pressure all the time because his serve is huge and he’s playing very aggressive from the baseline.
In the other matches to complete the menÈs quarter-final line-up, David Goffin put away Austria’s Dominic Thiem 5-7 7-6(4) 6-2 6-2 to become the first Belgian man to reach the last eight at the Aussie Open.
Goffin now faces Grigor Dimitrov, who halted the incredible run of Denis Istomin, the 117th-ranked Uzbekistani wildcard who shocked defending champion Novak Djokovic in round two.
The bespectacled Istomin won the first set but he needed repeated treatment on his tiring legs in the third and fourth sets before going down 2-6 7-6(2) 6-2 6-1 to the currently in-form Bulgarian.
The highest ranked player left in the draw, Canadian third seed Raonic, still suffering from the effects of flu, beat Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut 7-6(6) 3-6 6-4 6-1 to earn his quarter-final against Nadal.
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No major upsets in the womenÈs draw either where Serena Williams successfully fought off a strong challenge from Barbora Strycova to reach the last eight where the tourÈs current hottest player awaits, BritainÈs Jo Konta.
Williams fought off the Czech Strycova in what were hot conditions, coming through two tight sets 7-5 6-4.
"I have absolutely nothing to lose in this tournament," said Williams, 35, who is chasing an Open Era record breaking 23rd grand slam, and hopes to regain the world number one spot. "Everything here is a bonus for me. Obviously, I’m here to win. Hopefully I can play better, I can only go better."
Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, 34, continued her fairytale career revival when she beat American qualifier Jennifer Brady 6-4 6-2 to reach her first Grand Slam quarter-final in 18 years. Her last appearance at that stage was as a 17-year-old when she lost to Steffi Graf at Wimbledon in 1999.
"I hope no one is going to pinch me and wake me up because this is just incredible," said Lucic-Baroni. "I am a tough little cookie and really stubborn: when I want something, I will work hard and do anything I need to get it. What a satisfaction."
Lucic-Baroni will play her quarter-final against last yearÈs US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova, who ended home hopes with a comfortable 6-3 6-3 win over Australia’s Daria Gavrilova.