Rafael Nadal dug deep into his immense reserves of resilience for the second match running to keep his dream of a 21st Grand Slam title alive at the Australian Open on Tuesday, as women’s top seed Ashleigh Barty powered into a semi-final against Madison Keys.
The ruthless world number one Barty dismantled Jessica Pegula 6-2, 6-0 in 63 minutes to reach the last four at Melbourne Park for only the second time.
“That was solid tonight. I had a lot of fun out here,” said Barty, who is edging closer to becoming the first Australian woman to win her home Grand Slam since Chris O’Neill in 1978.
She will face the unseeded Keys for a place in Saturday’s final after the American, ranked 51, upset French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova 6-3, 6-2.
Wimbledon champion Barty is yet to drop a set and has only given up 17 games in her five matches at Melbourne Park.
Nadal raced to a two-set quarter-final lead against Denis Shapovalov but then began to feel unwell, needing medical attention for a stomach complaint before surviving a four-hour thriller 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3.
The Spanish sixth seed previously had to show all his experience and tenacity just to reach the quarter-final in an epic 28-minute tiebreak, and he somehow found the willpower again to cross the finish line, despite being badly hampered.
“I started to feel not very well in my stomach so I just asked if they could do something,” said Nadal of calling for medical assistance.
“They just checked everything was all right and then I took some tablets to try to improve the situation. It was lucky that I was serving great in the fifth.”
Nadal won a warm-up tournament and continues to amaze even himself after being out for most of 2021 with a chronic foot injury. He then caught Covid-19 in December.
“I’m not 21 any more!” he said.
‘A present of life’
“The real truth is that two months ago we didn’t know if we will be able to be back on tour at all,” Nadal admitted.
“It’s just a present of life that I am here playing tennis again.”
A frustrated Shapovalov smashed his racquet after losing and had a running battle with the chair umpire over the time Nadal was taking to serve, at one point calling the official “corrupt”.
‘Means a lot’
Earlier, Keys continued her impeccable start to the 2022 season with a straight-sets destruction of fourth seed Krejcikova, who needed medical attention after being affected by the heat as the mercury topped 30 Celsius (86 Farenheit) during the first set, with temperatures soaring even higher in the sun on centre court.
Keys was a semi-finalist in 2015 but endured a terrible 2021 where she tumbled down the rankings.
“It means a lot,” she said. “Last year was really hard.”
Keys said she had to reset completely for the new campaign – and it clearly worked.
She won an Adelaide warm-up event this month and has now amassed 11 straight match wins in Australia – equalling her tally for the whole of 2021.
“Wow, that’s gone well so far,” she said. “I am really proud of myself.”
Veteran Frenchman Gael Monfils meets big-serving Italian Matteo Berrettini in the last eight and warned the seventh seed: “I’m not quite finished yet.”
The 35-year-old 17th seed Monfils is yet to drop a set in Melbourne while Berrettini sent down 28 aces in sweeping past Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta.
“He’s feeling good, I’m feeling good,” said Berrettini. “It’s going to be a fight.”