Dubai: Ash Barty lightened the challenge of unseeded American Shelby Rogers with an impressive 6-3, 6-4 victory to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open for the third year in a row on Monday.
The world’s No. 1 has tried to avert conversation that she could end Australia’s 43-year wait for a homegrown champion next Saturday, but she seemed to be the title contender in every way when she was the last eight entered without dropping a set.
Rogers played quarter-finals at two Grand Slams and made a habit of upsetting high-ranking players, but she was unable to get enough of a grip on Barty’s serve to factor her high-quality returns.
Barty hesitated for the first time with the win in sight, allowing Rogers to take back one of the two serve breaks she gave up in the second set, but the top seed set a quarter-final date two games later with Czech Karolina Muchova.
Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal said he played his best set of the tournament beating longtime nemesis Fabio Fognini as the world’s No. 2 fights back to fitness from a back injury.
The Spaniard advanced to his 43rd Grand Slam quarter-final with his 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win over Rod Laver Arena, which clashed with Stefanos Tsitsipas as fifth seed.
Nadal has struggled with lower back tightness since arriving in Australia, but said he has started to increase his workload as the problem gets better.
I played the first set, without a doubt, my best level in the tournament, said Nadal, who is on the hunt for his 21st major title and the only hold of the men’s record, which he currently shares with Federer.
Well, it’s normal too, because I was able to practice for two days in a row. That makes an important difference. My physical condition needs to keep improving, but I think this race will help too.
I have not been able to exercise properly for the past 19 days, he added. But yesterday I started to increase the amount of work on the training again, and today has been a positive win with some long points, so that helps for the next game.
It is the 13th time that he has made the last eight in Australia, placing him in joint third place on the all-time list behind Roger Federer (15) and John Newcombe (14).
The result keeps him on track to face Novak Djokovic in the final, as the Serbian, who has an abdominal injury, enters his 12th quarter-final after beating Milos Raonic on Sunday night.
Next up for Nadal is Tsitsipas, who earned a walkover when ninth seed Matteo Berrettini withdrew from their fourth round on Monday, also with a stomachache.
Nadal said he was excited to face the Greek star and warned that he was starting to feel like his old self again.
If we compare how I was five days ago and how I am the current situation, it’s different, and my perspective and excitement is completely different, he said.
When he got into the game, Nadal held a 12-4 advantage over the flamboyant Fognini dating from 2013 and looked sharp, but it wasn’t the 34-year-old’s vintage tennis.
He didn’t serve at his best, but bounced back well, creating 19 breakpoint opportunities, although he only converted six.
Nadal raced to a 3-0 lead in the first set after beating some stunning winners.
But the 33-year-old Italian rallied and broke back before Nadal immediately broke up again.
The Italian saved three set points, but his resistance eventually crumbled after 46 minutes.
In the second set, Fognini broke for 4-2 when Nadal fluffed a forehand. But Nadal broke back and broke again before finishing the set.
He accelerated in the third set and raced to the finish when Fognini faded.
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