Rafael Nadal, Madison Keys, Ash Barty reach Australian Open semifinals – Daily Breeze

By JOHN PYE AP Sports Writer

MELBOURNE, Australia — Rafael Nadal held off Denis Shapovalov, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3, in four hours to reach the Australian Open semifinals for the seventh time on Tuesday (Monday night PT) and keep his bid on track for a men’s record 21st Grand Slam singles title.

Nadal shares the record of 20 with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic for most singles titles in men’s tennis majors. Neither of those two are playing in Melbourne this year.

Nadal was dominant for the first 2½ sets against No. 14 Shapovalov, but he appeared to be hampered at times by a stomach problem in the third and fourth sets.

At a tournament where he’s clinched the title only once (2009) and lost seven of his previous 13 quarterfinals – by far his worst conversion rate at any of the four major tournaments – Nadal suddenly looked vulnerable.

But following a seven-minute break between the last point of the fourth set and his first serve in the fifth, he recovered sufficiently to hold and then break Shapovalov’s serve for a 2-0 lead in the decider.

“I respect everything that Rafa has done and I think he’s an unbelievable player. But, you know, there’s got to be some boundaries, some rules set,” Shapovalov said. “It’s just so frustrating as a player. You feel like you’re not just playing against the player; you’re playing against the umpires, you’re playing against so much more.

“I mean, it was a big break after the fourth set for this reason, and the momentum just goes away.”

Nadal held onto the break and when he clinched the match, Nadal went to the corner and nodded his head a few times and did a subdued fist-pumping celebration. Then he went back on the court and properly celebrated. Shapovalov left a shattered racket on the court.

“I was completely destroyed. Tough day. Very warm,” Nadal said. “At the beginning of the match I was playing great (but) Denis is very talented, very aggressive. He was serving huge – especially the second serve.

“I think I had my chances at beginning of the third. I didn’t get it. I started to feel a little bit more tired. For me, it’s amazing to be in the semifinals.”

The men’s semifinals are both scheduled for Friday, giving Nadal two days off.

“I’m not 21 anymore!” he said. “After this … great to have two days off.

“I felt quite good physically in terms of movement. At least it was a great test. I really believe I’m going to be ready for the semifinals.”

Nadal will play either seventh-seeded Matteo Berrettini or No. 17 Gael Monfils. Berrettini was a Wimbledon runner-up last year; Monfils is 35 and contesting his second quarterfinal in 17 trips to Australia.

American Madison Keys continued her resurgent 2022 season by reaching the semifinals in Australia for the first time since 2015 with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova.

And resurgent might be a major understatement.

The 1-hour, 25-minute win over Krejcikova contained 11 aces, 27 winners and just one dropped service game and was her 10th win in a row and 11th of the new year.

That includes five wins so far at Melbourne Park, starting with a straight-sets victory over 2020 Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin, plus five in winning the Adelaide International – her first title since 2019 – and one at an earlier Melbourne tournament.

She only won 11 matches in 2021, saying she was focusing too heavily on results, and her year-end ranking slumped to 56th. It was the first time since 2014 she’d finished outside the Top 20.

“I did everything I could to rest this offseason and focus on starting fresh and new … starting from zero and not focusing on last year,” Keys said in her on-court interview. “I think it’s going well so far!”

She lost an Australian Open semifinal to Serena Williams in 2015, her first trip to the final four at a major. She reached the final at the 2017 U.S. Open and semis at Roland Garros and the U.S. Open in 2018, but hadn’t made it back to the last four in a Grand Slam since then.

The feeling in Melbourne will be vastly different. She will be facing top-ranked Australian Ash Barty, who routed fellow American Jessica Pegula, 6-2, 6-0.

“I’m seven years older and it’s not my first semifinal of a Slam,” Keys said. “I think I’m a little bit more prepared this time around than I was all those years ago.”

Barty, the reigning Wimbledon champion, saved the only break point she faced against Pegula and converted five of the nine chances she had to break serve. She is aiming to become the first Australian woman to win the Australian Open since 1978.

“I’ve grown as a person. I’ve grown as a player,” Barty said of the difference between her Wimbledon title and now. “I feel like I’m a more complete player.”

Krejcikova took a medical timeout while trailing 5-2 in the first set from what might have been heat stress, and appeared to be lethargic at times during the 35-minute second set.

Temperatures were peaking toward 90 degrees under almost cloudless skies.

“It was the heat with some physical conditions that started to bother me after five games,” said Krejcikova, who is still playing in the doubles draw. “I mean, from there on, you know, I just couldn’t put it together.

“I have been struggling with something. Yes, it was happening and I didn’t feel good. I just don’t want to talk about it because I think Madison, she really deserves the win and she really deserves to get the credit. ”

For Taylor Fritz, the difference between reaching the Grand Slam quarterfinals for the first time and missing out again came down to three points in a 3½-hour, five-set loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas late Monday night (overnight PT).

The 24-year-old Fritz was aiming to put an American man back into the quarterfinals of a major tournament. Tennys Sandgren in 2020 was the last one to do it, reaching the last eight in Australia.

Last year, for the first time since 2015, no American men reached the quarterfinals of a major. And after UCLA product Maxime Cressy lost in four sets to U.S. Open champion Daniil Medvedev in the heat of Monday afternoon, it was all up to Fritz.

The No. 20 seed from San Diego took the first set off Tsitsipas – last year’s French Open runner-up – and, after dropping the second, again took the lead by clinching the third set with a curling cross-court forehand winner at 10:42 p.m.

That’s where experience made a difference on Rod Laver Arena, the main show court at Melbourne Park. Fritz was playing in the fourth round for the first time in his 22nd Grand Slam event and was 0-5 against top five players in the majors.

Tsitsipas had been there before, and he had a lot of support in the stands from Melbourne’s large Greek community.

Tsitsipas had rallied from two sets down to beat Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals last year before losing in the semifinals to Medvedev. He went one round deeper at Roland Garros.

So when Fritz gave him a break-point chance in the ninth game of the fifth set, only his second look in the set, Tsitsipas stepped up. Fritz netted a volley to give Tsitsipas the break, and the fourth-seeded Greek finished off a 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory two minutes after midnight to conclude Day 8.

“In the end, I struggled a little bit at finishing off some points I needed to finish off,” Fritz said. “He served very well under pressure, but I can’t give him those breaks that I did.

“The three times I got broken were more just donations from me, and not so much anything he did other than make me play.”

Still, Fritz said he would take a lot of positives out of a tough loss.

“I felt like I played well enough,” he said. “Definitely could have won that match.”

It wasn’t just a feeling, either. The statistics were genuinely close. Tsitsipas hit 53 winners and had 44 unforced errors; Fritz had 52 winners against 37 unforced errors.

And the serve and return percentages were comparable. The big difference was on break-point conversions: Tsitsipas converted three of his five chances, while Fritz was 2 of 15.

On Wednesday, Tsitsipas will play No. 11 Jannik Sinner, who ended Australia’s hopes in the men’s draw with a 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4 win over Alex de Minaur. Medvedev will continue his bid to become the first man in the Open era to win his second Grand Slam title at the very next major when he takes on No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime, who rallied to beat 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic, 2-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2, 7-6 (4).

Tsitsipas said it took him a while to work out how to deal with the way Fritz was taking the match to him.

“I knew it was going to get physical. I kept reminding myself, get in there, do the work. Don’t give up. A little bit more patience,” he said. “It was important to have the crowd with me. I feel like they were backing me up when things got tough.

“It was important to have that kind of ambiance today, and it paid off at the end.”

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