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Rafael Nadal, the 2009 champion, competed hard on Monday to overcome second-set resistance from Fabio Fognini and book his place in the Australian Open quarter-finals for the 13th time.
The Spanish superstar was not always at his best on serve, but moved fluently and played the cleaner tennis to wrap up a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over the Italian No. 16 seed in two hours and 16 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.
“When you go on court against Fabio you worry,” said Nadal. “There can always be problems. I was just lucky that when he broke me [in the second set] I responded immediately and held the score. Today was very humid and quicker during the day, which I like, but I have to adapt to every condition.”
Nadal struck 24 winners, including six aces, to improve to a 13-4 record against Fognini in their ATP Head2Head series. Fognini, who was bidding to become the fourth Italian man to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals after Giorgio De Stefani (1935), Nicola Pietrangeli (1957) and Cristiano Caratti (1991), converted two of six break-point chances and committed 35 unforced errors.
The 34-year-old Nadal is bidding to become the first man in the Open Era to clinch each of the four major championships on two or more occasions. He will next meet fifth-seeded Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, who received a walkover after No. 9 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy withdrew due to an abdominal strain. Nadal leads Tsitsipas 6-1 in their ATP Head2Head series.
“It will be a big challenge and today’s win was good for my confidence,” said Nadal. “I will need to be ready. My back is holding up and tomorrow’s practice will be important preparation.
“[The] first set, without a doubt, was my best level in the tournament. My physical condition needs to keep improving, but I think [today’s] match helps. I was not able to practise the proper way for the past 19 days, but yesterday I started again to increase the amount of work in practice.”
Nadal burst out to a 3-0 advantage and while Fognini responded, the Spaniard quickly put his foot down. Fognini saved three set points in a 20-point eighth game before Nadal closed out to love.
Fognini saved one break point in the first game of the second set and capitalised on a strong service performance. The Italian clinched a 4-2 lead after Nadal hit a double fault and forehand error, but the lapse was temporary. Nadal got to work, winning four straight games to seal the 52-minute set just when Fognini looked to be in the ascendency.
Nadal continued to compete better than Fognini in the third set and patiently rallied to earn an early service break. After losing the first game, Nadal won five straight games for a 5-1 advantage. He completed his fourth win of 2021 with a love hold, and his sixth ace.
Nadal advances to his 43rd Grand Slam championship quarter-final and remains on course to capture a record 21st crown.