MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal finally got the better of a crazy, long tiebreaker and knew he'd won half the battle.
After saving four set points and missing with the first six of his own, Nadal finally clinched a tiebreaker that lasted 28 minutes and 40 seconds to set himself on course to secure a spot in the 2022 Australian Open quarterfinals for a 14th time.
After his 7-6 (14), 6-2, 6-2 fourth-round victory over fellow left-hander Adrian Mannarino on Sunday, Nadal is potentially just three wins away from a men’s record 21st Grand Slam singles title.
He later reflected on a tiebreaker where momentum swung wildly; where chants of “Let’s go Rafa, Let’s go!” rang out; where a point was decided on a 25-shot rally with both players scrambling at full stretch; and which ended only when Nadal volleyed from deep in the court and Mannarino’s reflex reply skewed wide.
“Well, you know, I played a couple,” he said, smiling, in reference to long tiebreakers. "But, yeah, (it was) a crazy one, chances for both. And, yeah, lucky to win that tiebreak at the end, no?
“Half of the match in the tiebreak, without a doubt.”
Nadal will next play Denis Shapovalov, the 22-year-old Canadian who finished off a 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 win over Olympic gold medalist Zverev on Margaret Court Arena less than an hour later to reach the last eight in Australia for the first time.
Nadal is now tied with John Newcombe in second spot on the all-time list for most quarterfinals in Australia, one behind Roger Federer's 15.
It’s also the Spaniard's 45th time into the last eight at a Grand Slam tournament, which is third on the all-time behind Federer (58) and Novak Djokovic (51).
He shares the men's record of 20 major titles with Federer and Djokovic. But he's the only one of the trio playing in this tournament. Nine-time Australian Open champion Djokovic was deported on the eve of the tournament because he didn't meet Australia's strict COVID-19 vaccination rules. Federer is recovering from injury.
Mannarino, who didn't finish his 4-hour, 38-minute four-set, third-round win over No. 18 Aslan Karatsev until after 2 a.m. on Saturday and appeared to be hampered at times by an abdominal or upper leg injury, threw everything at Nadal in the opening set on Rod Laver Arena, where temperatures approached 33 Celsius (91 F).
“After first set I couldn’t really fight against Rafa,” said the 33-year-old No. 69-ranked Mannarino. “You know, he was playing too well for me not to be 100%. The second and third set just went all the way for Rafa, so that’s it."
The first set lasted 85 minutes, including the 'breaker, but after getting early breaks in the second and third sets the match was over in 2 hours, 40 minutes.
“I’m very happy I survived that first set, without a doubt,” said the sixth-seeded Nadal, who saved one of the only two breakpoint chances he faced, and converted five of 17. “That crazy first set was so important.”
The No. 14-seeded Shapovalov spent almost 11 hours on court through the first three rounds, winning twice in four sets and once in five, and was surprised by the relative speed of his 2-hour, 21-minute win over Zverev.
“Probably the one I least expected to finish in three,” he said. “Definitely happy with where the game is at. I played pretty smart today.”
Shapovalov reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals in 2020 and was a semifinalist at Wimbledon last year, his career-best run to date at a major. He'll have to step it up against one of the greatest in the game to again reach the final four.
“It’s always an honor to go up against a guy like Rafa,” Shapovalov said. “It’s always fun. Always going to be a battle against him.”
In the women's draw, French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova breezed to a 6-2, 6-2 win over two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka to reach the quarterfinals for the third time in four Grand Slam events.
The fourth-seeded Krejcikova will next play Madison Keys, who reached the semifinals in Australia in 2015 and was runner-up at the 2017 U.S. Open.
Keys overpowered eighth-seeded Paula Badosa 6-3, 6-1 in the first of the fourth-round matches on Day 7 at Rod Laver Arena.
The 26-year-old American, who beat 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in the first round, hit 26 winners and made only 18 unforced errors against Badosa to continue her unbeaten start to 2022. She claimed her sixth career title at a tune-up tournament in Adelaide last week.
Krejcikova went into her match against Azarenka believing the former 32-year-old, former No. 1-ranked player from Belarus was the favorite to win.
But the 2012 and 2013 champion made 28 unforced errors and dropped five service games, and it was all over in 85 minutes.
“She’s a champion here. She likes this court. She’s very experienced on this court. I have a lot of respect for her,” Krejcikova said. But, "I was doing everything to get this one, really preparing for a dream like this.
“And yeah, I’m in the quarterfinals.”
Top-ranked Ash Barty was playing in a later match against No. 60-ranked Amanda Anisimova, who saved two match points before upsetting defending champion Naomi Osaka in the third round.
The winner of that match between Barty and Anisimova will play No. 21-seeded Jessica Pegula, who beat fifth-seeded Maria Sakkari 7-6 (0), 6-3.
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