Rafael Nadal of Spain plays a backhand against Fabio Fognini of Italy at the 2021 Australian Open in Melbourne. Picture: MARK METCALFE
Rafael Nadal of Spain plays a backhand against Fabio Fognini of Italy at the 2021 Australian Open in Melbourne. Picture: MARK METCALFE

Melbourne — For a player who was all doom and gloom about his fitness on the eve of the Australian Open, Rafa Nadal emerged as an unlikely pillar of strength on day eight as injuries cut a swathe through the men’s draw on Monday.

Nadal’s bid for a record 21st Grand Slam crown gathered pace with a 6-3 6-4 6-2 demolition of Fabio Fognini that pushed the Spaniard into his 13th quarterfinal at Melbourne Park.

The lower back strain that forced Nadal to miss the ATP Cup is now disappearing in the rear-view mirror and he heads into his next clash against fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas without having dropped a set.

“The first set without a doubt has been my best level in the tournament,” Nadal said after routing 16th seed Fognini on a sunbathed afternoon at Rod Laver Arena.

“It’s normal, too, because I was able to practice for two days in a row. I’m excited about playing that quarterfinals match. If we compare how I was five days ago and how I am today’s situation, it’s different, and my perspective and excitement is completely different, too.”

While Nadal booked his 43rd Grand Slam quarterfinal with 2hr 16 min of work against Fognini, Tsitsipas did not lift a racket against ninth seed Matteo Berrettini, who pulled out with an abdominal strain.

Norwegian Casper Ruud’s hopes of a maiden Grand Slam quarterfinal were also undone by an abdominal injury as he retired two sets in against Russian Andrey Rublev.

Fourth seed Daniil Medvedev raced into the quarterfinals with a clinical 6-4 6-2 6-3 victory over American Mackenzie McDonald. Medvedev sent down seven aces, 29 winners and made just 15 unforced errors as he wrapped up the one-sided contest in 90 minutes.

In the women’s section, Ashleigh Barty made light of the challenge of unseeded American Shelby Rogers to reach the quarterfinals for the third year in a row with a commanding 6-3 6-4 victory.

The world No 1 has tried to deflect talk that she might end Australia’s 43-year wait for a home-grown champion on Saturday but she looked every bit the title contender as she swept into the last eight without dropping a set.

With no crowds until Thursday at the earliest because of Melbourne’s five-day coronavirus lockdown and no Australian men left in the singles draw, Barty has the hopes of organisers as well as fans resting on her shoulders.

“We’re not done yet,” said Barty, who lost in the semifinals at her home Grand Slam in 2020. “It’s exciting to be in another quarterfinal of a Grand Slam, particularly here in Australia … but certainly not satisfied with where we’re at the moment.

“We will keep chipping away and keep trying to do the right things to progress as far as we can.”

The 24-year-old looked as if she had all the tools to keep local interest fixed on the tennis for another five days as she set up a quarterfinal against Czech Karolina Muchova.

American Jennifer Brady eased into the quarterfinals with a 6-1 7-5 victory over Croatia’s Donna Vekic. Brady sent down nine aces and won 85% of her first-serve points in a dominant performance against Vekic, who had heavy strapping on her right leg. Brady faces compatriot Jessica Pegula next.

Pegula continued her dream run with a 6-4 3-6 6-3 win over Ukrainian fifth seed Elina Svitolina to reach the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam for the first time. Pegula was far more effective at the net than her opponent, and also struck 31 winners compared to 19 from Svitolina.

Reuters

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