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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, January 23, 2022

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal saved four set points in the first-set tiebreaker fending off Adrian Mannarino 7-6(14), 6-2, 6-2 to reach his 14th Australian Open quarterfinal.

Photo credit: Getty

This Australian Open has given us surprising comings and goings.

Rafael Nadal showed major staying power on Rod Laver Arena.

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A revved up Nadal fought off four set points in the first set tiebreaker then grinded down a gritty Adrian Mannarino 7-6(14), 6-2, 6-2 to reach his 14th Australian Open quarterfinal.

Before an enthusiastic crowd that included the legendary Laver himself, the sixth-seeded Spaniard equaled Aussie icon John Newcombe for second place on the all-time list for most AO quarterfinal appearances behind only Roger Federer (15).

Nadal slammed 16 aces, won 42 of 48 points played on his first serve and faced just two break points to reach his 45th Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Continuing his quest for a men's record 21st Grand Slam title, Nadal will face another left-hander, Denis Shapovalov, for a semifinal spot.

The 14th-seeded Shapovalov snapped a 17-match losing streak vs. Top 5 opponents surprising Olympic gold-medal champion Alexander Zverev 6-3, 7-6(5), 6-3. Nadal has won three of four meetings vs. Shapovalov.

"It's always an honor to go up against a guy like Rafa," said Shapovalov, who beat Nadal in last month's Abu Dhabi exhibition. "It's always fun. It's always a battle against him. It's gonna be a tough one and I'm definitely gonna enjoy it."

The first set escalated into an absolutely epic tiebreaker that saw Mannarino save six set points and Nadal fight off four set points, including knocking a backhand pass down the line when Mannarino jumped all over a drop shot.

By the time the dust settled on that pulsating 28-minute tiebreaker, Nadal was revitalized and Mannarino was understandably depleted by the draining breaker on a toasty afternoon.

“First set have been very, very emotional anything could happen there,” Nadal said. “I was a little bit lucky in the end. I had my chances, but then he had lots of chances too.

“Everybody knows how mentally tough this is game. It was a tough one and after that crazy first set that break at the beginning of the second was so important.

“He has been playing some fantastic tennis the whole tournament winning against amazing players like Karatsev and Hurkacz. Today the first set was super difficult. His ball was very difficult to control very flat, very fast and I am very happy that I survived that first set without a doubt.”

Despite spending four hours and 38 minutes on court in his third-round upset of 2021 semifinalist Aslan Karatsev, the 33-year-old Frenchman looked a little fresher and sharper than Nadal at the outset.

Mannarino gained the first break point of the match in the 11th game. Nadal spun a slider serve out wide to save it, eventually navigating a seven-minute hold for a 6-5 lead.

The set escalated into a topsy-turvy tiebreaker that saw both men earn multiple set points.

In a thrilling tiebreaker that spanned 28 minutes 40 seconds the pair pushed each other all over the court in dizzying rallies. Mannarino saved set points at 4-6, 5-6 and 6-7 before Nadal denied set point at 7-8.

On Nadal’s fourth set point a riveting rally reached 25 shots as Nadal lifted a full-stretch flick lob that landed on the line. Mannarino got it back then pasted a running forehand off the baseline leveling at 9-all and sending Rod Laver Arena fans into a frenzy.

Staring down a second set point, Nadal tapped a tame drop shot. Mannarino was up to the ball quickly and could have ended the set, but Nadal read his reply and knocked a stretch backhand down the line for 12-12. That exchange left Mannarino leaning on his black-and-yellow Babolat racquet as if it were a cane. Nadal saved a third set point whipping a forehand down the line forging a 13-13 tie.

On his seventh set point, Nadal looked out of position but held his ground for the Frenchman’s approach and slashed a swing volley that Mannarino could not handle finally ending the near 29-minute breaker with a furious fist pump.

After an adventurous 81-minute opening set, Nadal’s purple shirt was saturated to his skin as if he’d been dipped in the Yarra River. Nadal left the court for a clothing change, while a weary Mannarino sat on his court-side seat after a punishing first set.

Turning his hips and shoulders into his shots, Nadal was swinging more freely when he broke to start the second set.

An energized Nadal raced up to a net-cord shot and knifed a backhand winner into the corner gaining the double break and a 4-1 second-set lead. Mannarino, who had dictated play for stretches of the opening set, was looking a half-step slower to the ball and sometimes lunging for shots after that depleting first set.

After Mannarino held for 2-5 he called for the trainer and took a couple of tablets before resuming the battle. There was no remedy for Nadal’s onslaught.

The sixth-seeded Spaniard spun a forehand into the corner snatching a two-set lead after two hours.

Tennis Express

The 2009 champion turned up the torment creating five break points to start the third set. Nadal broke for 1-0 when Mannarino shoveled a forehand into net. Nadal’s focus dipped a bit as he double-faulted the break right back at love.

Pacing more methodically between points, Mannarino lifted a drop shot but Nadal raced up to the ball blocked it back and broke when the Frenchman failed to find the court.

"Honestly in this tournament I think I have been in a very good position to fight for it a lot of times in my career," Nadal said. "I always enjoyed a lot playing here. It’s true that I have been a little bit unlucky with injuries and sometimes I was unlucky because the opponent was better than me, but in general terms I enjoy very emotional matches here.

"So I am very very happy to be back in quarterfinals. It means a lot to me."

Nadal, who warmed up for the AO winning his 89th career title at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament, slashed his 16th ace to close a two hour, 40-minute match in style.


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