For someone who entered the Australian Open short of match practice, Rafael Nadal is looking scary good.
The Spaniard reached the semifinals at the Australian Open without dropping a set after dispatching Frances Tiafoe 6-3 6-4 6-2 at Rod Laver Arena to set up a clash with another, higher-ranked ‘Next Gen’ star in Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Tsitsipas accounted for another Spaniard, Roberto Bautista Agut, during the day session at Melbourne Park a round after his stunning upset of Roger Federer.
World No. 2 Nadal — Federer’s friend and on-court rival — entered the year’s first major having last contested an official match at the US Open, after which he shut his season down due to more injury woes.
But in blasting through his opponents helped by a new service motion, the 17-time grand slam winner has breezed to the last four.
The last time he failed to drop a set en route to the semifinals at a major outside his favored French Open? In 2011 at the US Open, when he eventually fell to Novak Djokovic in the final.
Given Nadal’s absence at the end of 2018 because of an abdominal injury and subsequent ankle surgery, perhaps many wouldn’t have expected the world No. 2 to get this far.
Nadal-Djokovic on the cards?
Now, however, anything other than a Nadal-Djokovic duel in the final would be surprising. If he departs Down Under with the trophy, the 32-year-old would become the first man to win each of the grand slams at least twice.
His lone crown at the Australian Open came exactly a decade ago.
Djokovic contests his quarterfinal Wednesday against Kei Nishikori.
Not only has the world No. 1 won 14 times in a row against Nishikori, but the Japanese shotmaker has played three five-setters already.
His last one, against Pablo Carreno Busta, was the longest of the bunch at more than five hours.
Keep an eye on Djokovic’s back, however. He experienced discomfort there in his intense four-set win over Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in Monday’s night session.
Playing in his maiden grand slam quarterfinal, Tiafoe needed a good start to have any chance of upsetting Nadal.
The opposite happened — the 21-year-old American was broken in the first game.
Nadal really only experienced difficult moments midway through the second set when he had to save two break points in a 10-minute game.
He did so and out went Tiafoe’s opportunity to instill an element of doubt in the Spaniard’s mind.
Still, it has been a breakthrough event for the world No. 39.
Good tournament for Tiafoe
Tiafoe upset both Kevin Anderson and Grigor Dimitrov, becoming a crowd favorite in the process with his joyous celebrations.
By now, many will know his family moved from Sierra Leone to the US. He learned to play the game at the tennis center near Washington where his father served as the custodian.
It was, as he put it, not a typical start to a tennis career.
Nadal’s career has been exceptional. Tinkering with the service motion, he said, was initiated to extend his own career, and the Spaniard extended his stay in Melbourne Tuesday with another commanding performance.