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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Australian Open Day 8: Rafael Nadal knocks out Nick Kyrgios, to play Dominic Thiem in quarters

Thiem, twice a French Open finalist, came into the fourth-round clash against the 10th seed having won all five of the matches they have previously played and did not face a single breakpoint against the Frenchman on the Rod Laver Arena.

By: Reuters | Melbourne | Updated: January 27, 2020 7:28:20 pm
Rafael Nadal celebrates after his match against Australia’s Nick Kyrgios (Source: Reuters)

Rafael Nadal lost his first set of the tournament but rode out a spirited challenge from wholly committed Nick Kyrgios to move into the quarter-finals of the Australian Open for the 12th time with a 6-3 3-6 7-6 (6) 7-6(4) victory on Monday.

Kyrgios was a match for the 19-times Grand Slam champion in the second and for most of the third set but the muscle-bound Spaniard always looked like the most likely winner once he got his nose back in front.

The Australian broke back when Nadal was serving for the match in the fourth set, however, reigniting the contest and bring the partisan Rod Laver Arena crowd back into the equation.

The world number one just gritted his teeth and went again in the tiebreak and he moved through to a last-eight meeting with Austrian Dominic Thiem when Kyrgios netted a forehand after three hours and 38 minutes.

“It was a very tough match, it seemed like I had control at the start but against Nick you are never in control,” said Nadal, who hit 64 winners to Kyrgios’s 50.

Kyrgios showed once again that he has all the skills to be a Grand Slam champion and will console himself at having shown considerably more of the mental fortitude he will need to win major prizes at his home Open this year.

“When he is playing like today with this positive attitude, he gives a lot of positive things to our sport,” said Nadal, who has not always seen eye-to-eye with Kyrgios.

“He is one of the best talents we have. I like the Nick Kyrgios of this tournament.”

The match was preceded by a ceremony honouring the 50th anniversary of the Grand Slam achieved by Margaret Court, once adored by Australians for her tennis prowess but now a more divisive figure because of her opposition to same-sex marriage.

Kyrgios has proved divisive himself due to his on-court antics but earned praise for kickstarting tennis’ bushfire relief appeal. However, there was a more recent tragedy on his mind on Monday and he sported a LA Lakers shirt in the warm-up.

“He’s one of the highest talents that we have on our tour.”

BRYANT REMEMBERED

A basketball fanatic, Kyrgios appeared to be close to tears as he walked out on court only a few hours after the death of Kobe Bryant, who was later described by Nadal “one of the greatest sportsmen in history”.

By any measure, Nadal would also have to rank in that elite but he had always found a Kyrgios tricky proposition and held only a 4-3 career record against the Australian.

The Spaniard looked to have the contest well under control when he raced through the first set against a slow-starting Kyrgios in cool, blustery conditions.

Kyrgios needed 14 minutes to hold at the start of the second set but two games later he had a break when his forehand pass at the end of an 18-shot rally just kissed the baseline.

The Australian served out the set with two aces and, with the crowd now roaring his every point, the contest moved into a blockbuster of a 72-minute third set.

The pair slugged it out through intense game after intense game and onto an equally intense tiebreak, which Nadal, also feeling the pressure, sealed despite passing up one set point with a double fault.

The Australian handed Nadal an early break for 2-1 lead in the fourth with a double fault but the “new” Nick Kyrgios was not about to lie down and took the set to its dramatic conclusion in the tiebreak.

Dominic Thiem celebrates winning his match against France’s Gael Monfils (Source: Reuters)

Fifth seed Dominic Thiem kept his flawless record against Gael Monfils intact with a trouble-free 6-2 6-4 6-4 victory on Monday to reach his maiden Australian Open quarter-final.

Thiem, twice a French Open finalist, came into the fourth-round clash against the 10th seed having won all five of the matches they have previously played and did not face a single breakpoint against the Frenchman on the Rod Laver Arena.

“I think that I played my best match so far of this Australian Open. A very, very good feeling,” the Austrian said.

“The score looks way easier than the match was. I think I was lucky to make an early break in each set and then was managing to hold my serve well. I’m so happy because I’m for the first time in the quarter-finals here.”

Thiem, who lost to Rafa Nadal both times in the title match at Roland Garros, converted four of his 14 breakpoint chances and hit 31 winners to seal the contest.

Monfils surprised Thiem with an underarm serve in the second set, which the Austrian was unable to return, but the world number five managed to chase down most of the drop shots that the Frenchman employed against him.

“I always played my best tennis against him, so maybe that’s one reason,” Thiem said of his 6-0 record against Monfils.

The 26-year-old will meet the winner of the blockbuster clash between top seed Nadal and local hope Nick Kyrgios, seeded 23rd, for a place in the semi-finals.

It will be the first singles meeting between the Spaniard and Kyrgios since last year’s Wimbledon when the temperamental Australian, who had previously described Nadal as a sore loser and “super salty”, lost in four sets.

Thiem, who also confirmed that since last year his mother has been getting a tattoo every time he wins a tournament, was keen to watch the contest between his potential next opponents.

“I couldn’t be happier to be done, to be in the quarter-finals and to watch that, relax from home. I’m also very excited for that match,” Thiem said.

“Obviously it’s going to be such an entertaining contest tonight and then also in two days, it doesn’t matter who I face.

“So I’m really excited to watch that match and may the better one win tonight.”

Wawrinka finds the answers to take down Medvedev

Former champion Stan Wawrinka emerged from a mid-match loss of confidence to battle past Russian fourth seed Daniil Medvedev to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals with a 6-2 2-6 4-6 7-6(2) 6-2 victory on Monday.

Medvedev, 23, arrived in Melbourne after a 2019 season featuring four titles and a Tour-leading 59 match wins and came into Monday’s contest against Wawrinka having won both career meetings at Grand Slams in four sets.

But the Russian failed to find a way past the battling 2014 Australian Open champion, ending up the highest seed to fall in the men’s draw so far.

Wawrinka, who won the last of his three Grand Slam titles at the 2016 U.S. Open, hit a staggering 71 winners and sealed the contest after three hours and 25 minutes.

“This was another amazing match, really tough to play against Daniil, I lost to him in U.S. Open but today came back strongly on the fourth and fifth sets,” he said.

“The level was super high and it was a great atmosphere. It’s amazing to keep playing here, I’m really happy to be able to continue to play at this level here and I’m looking forward to the quarter-final.”

Wawrinka was flawless in the opening set and wrested initiative with a double break of the Russian’s serve.

But Medvedev, who lost to Rafa Nadal in five sets in last year’s U.S. Open final, levelled the contest by breaking Wawrinka twice in the second and nosed ahead in the match with a break in the seventh game of the third.
The points grew longer in the fourth with both players refusing to yield and it was only in the tiebreaker that Wawrinka created a clear margin to force a deciding set.

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Wawrinka rode the momentum and broke Medvedev’s first service game in the fifth, and another break in the seventh sealed the contest in his favour.

After his win, the 34-year-old tapped the side of his forehead with his finger and patted his chest as the crowd at Margaret Court Arena cheered him on.

“I’m finding the answers, I lost confidence a bit in the second and third sets but I knew it was all on the mental side of things,” he said.

Wawrinka will meet either German seventh seed Alexander Zverev or 17th seed Andrey Rublev of Russia for a place in the semi-finals.

Zverev ends Rublev run to reach first quarters in Melbourne

Seventh seed Alexander Zverev of Germany strolled past Andrey Rublev 6-4 6-4 6-4 on Monday to end the Russian’s 15-match winning streak and book his maiden quarter-final spot in the Australian Open.

Rublev arrived in Melbourne having won titles in Doha and Adelaide at the start of the season while he also won all four singles matches he contested at the season-ending Davis Cup Finals in November.

But the German put in a clinical performance, breaking his opponent’s serve once in each set while not facing a single breakpoint of his own, to complete the win in straight sets.

Zverev served 11 aces and hit his 34th winner to complete the win and set up a quarter-final clash against former champion Stan Wawrinka, who earlier battled past Russian fourth seed Daniil Medvedev 6-2 2-6 4-6 7-6(2) 6-2.

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