Sports, Tennis

Nadal closes in on quest for greatness


By AFP
Published : 27 Jan 2022 08:29 PM | Updated : 27 Jan 2022 08:29 PM

Rafael Nadal is two matches away from getting the jump on golden era rivals Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer to become all-time Grand Slam leader as the Australian Open gets down to the last four on Friday.

The 35-year-old Spanish gladiator has Italian power server Matteo Berrettini to overcome to get through to Sunday's final against second seed Daniil Medvedev or number four Stefanos Tsitsipas in his quest for a 21st major title.

Nadal, seeded sixth and the 2009 winner, had modest expectations resuming after a three-and-a-half-month lay-off with a chronic foot injury at the end of last season.

But a combination of nine-time winner Djokovic's dramatic deportation on the eve of the tournament over vaccination issues and world number three Alexander Zverev's shock fourth round exit has cleared Nadal's path to the top-half semi-final.

Nadal has been modifying his game to compensate for a degenerative bone disease in his left foot that threatens to end his remarkable career and faces another physical test against last year's Wimbledon finalist Berrettini.

"Today there are still doubts because the foot, it is an injury we cannot fix... so we need to find a way that the pain is under control to keep playing," Nadal said.

"The last six months have been a lot of doubts if I would be able to keep going.

"But now I feel good. We are in a position that we won a (lead-up) tournament, we are in semi-finals of the Australian Open, so that's amazing for me."

Seventh seed Berrettini, 25, the first Italian man to play in the Australian Open semi-finals, is in awe of facing up to Nadal, but believes he can cause an upset.

"Playing with him on Rod Laver Arena in the semi-finals is something that I dreamed about when I was a kid," he said.

"Now I really want to win this match. I know I can do it. It's gonna be a really tough one. I'm in the semis in a Slam for the third time so it means that this is my level and I want to get further."