Australian Open: Rafael Nadal, in the quarterfinals with an era tie-break and an unlucky opponent
Almost five months without playing, since last August. A chronic injury to his left foot that has him mistreating. Setbacks and adversities Rafael Nadal he carries with him, along with his talent and a steely mentality. The left-hander from Manacor is already in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open, instance to which he agreed with a victory over the Frenchman Adrian Mannarino by 7-6 (16-14), 6-2 and 6-2. And he is beginning to be closer to a feat: he has three steps left to be crowned champion in Australia, no less than twelve years after his first and – until now – only celebration at Melbourne Park, in 2009.
Nadal was one of the first to land in Melbourne, determined to rediscover his best possible form, and leave behind an end to 2021 for oblivion, which even included a positive for Covid-19 that had him mistreating. He won a minor tournament in the first week of January, with three wins that helped build his confidence. Then, he went about his business at the first Grand Slam: winning matches.
In the round of 16, Mannarino proposed an even duel to Nadal as long as he could sustain the intensity… and his physique. From the 69th position in the ranking, and at 33 years old, Mannarino is a classic product of the French tennis school. Left-handed, talented, he became 22nd in the world in March 2018. He won an ATP title and lost nine finals. He was unlucky with injuries, which left him away from the courts for a long time. One of them was recent: in June of last year, he beat Roger Federer by two sets to one in the Wimbledon center, but wanting to go looking for a setback, he suffered a sprain in his right knee.
The ailment in that same area reappeared while he played equal to Nadal on the central court of the Melbourne Arena. Just at the moment that disputed an epic tie-break, of a historical nature: 30 points and 28 minutes and 40 seconds of action, in which the Spaniard was only able to unbalance in the seventh set-point, and after the Frenchman had four chances to win the first set. Nadal celebrated madly, with blows in the air, obtaining that first set, which had increased its value as the points passed, and which seemed to definitively unlock the match.
And so it was, because Mannarino could not sustain the level of the first set. Rafa needed 81 minutes to win the first set, and another 79 to win the next two sets. The Frenchman, with visible physical problems, could hardly run, he barely moved. So, how to beat a Nadal unleashed? Impossible. The game headed for a sung outcome. In a left-handed duel, it was the third win for the man from Manacor over the Frenchman.
best of the match
“That first set was very emotional, I was a bit lucky because we both had a lot of chances. Then that helped me break early in the second set. He had been playing very well, his tennis is difficult to predict, and he came with confidence for having beaten very good players. In this tournament I have been in a good position on many occasions during my career, I also had physical problems, and other times the rivals have been superior, but I am happy to be here again”, Nadal highlighted.
Rafa is today number 6 in the world. He is also the only Australian champion among all those in action in Melbourne, in what is his “worst” Grand Slam: he only won it once, in 2009. He has a record of 73 wins and 15 losses. It is the second Grand Slam with the most wins of his, after Roland Garros (105). In addition to that title, he was a finalist four times: in 2012 and 2019 he lost to Djokovic, in 2014 he fell to Stan Wawrinka, and in 2017 he stumbled against Roger Federer. In 14 of the last 15 Australian Open, Nadal was in the quarterfinals. Incredible numbers, even though he only once left Melbourne Park with the legendary Norman Brookes Trophy in his hands. Now, without Djokovic as a great enemy, he has other competitors ahead of him. He is the only one of the Big 3 in the race… and he also knows how to win in Melbourne.