‘Old’ Nadal finds his fight, punches past Mon­fils

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

MEL­BOURNE: Rafa Nadal re­turned to the Grand Slam big­time by weath­er­ing a fu­ri­ous Gael Mon­fils fight­back to win 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 and reach the Aus­tralian Open quar­ter-fi­nals yes­ter­day.

For­mer cham­pion Nadal had not reached the last eight of a ma­jor since the 2015 French Open, so he cel­e­brated wildly af­ter clos­ing out the two-hour, 56-minute clash at a packed Rod Laver Arena.

It was not the most con­vinc­ing of wins for the 30-year-old Spa­niard, who be­came rat­tled when sixth seed Mon­fils ral­lied bril­liantly in the third set and went up 4-2 in the fourth.

But Nadal sum­moned the re­silience of his hal­cyon days to win four straight games and keep his pur­suit of a 15th Grand Slam ti­tle alive.

No­vak Djokovic may be ab­sent af­ter his shock sec­on­dround elim­i­na­tion but third seed Mi­los Raonic looms as a mas­sive road­block to Nadal’s hopes.

“For me, it means a lot be­cause I re­ally start the sea­son play­ing quar­ter-fi­nals in a Grand Slam again, es­pe­cially on a hard court (and) af­ter a cou­ple of years without be­ing in this round is great news,” ninth seed Nadal said af­ter­wards. “Very happy with an im­por­tant vic­tory against a very good op­po­nent.

“When you lost the third (set), you are down 4-2 in the fourth, you are not un­der con­trol, no. That’s the real thing.”

Mon­fils came into the match with a 12-2 los­ing record against Nadal and the flam­boy­ant French­man started as if weighed down by the his­tory.

He was bro­ken early in each of the first two sets and made his plight worse with some bizarre shots and mys­ti­fy­ing de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

He ham­mered a pair of blaz­ing win­ners to save set points in the sec­ond set but threw it away with a dis­mal drop shot.

Nadal ap­peared on course to coast to a com­fort­able win but he came un­stuck at 4-4 in the third set, dou­ble-fault­ing to hand Mon­fils a free point, then pound­ing a fore­hand over the base­line.

Mon­fils clinched the set with a blaz­ing fore­hand win­ner and strut­ted back to his chair with an in­dex fin­ger pointed at his tem­ple.

Sav­ing two break points and hav­ing sur­vived a marathon fourth game, an in­spired Mon­fils pound­ing away at Nadal’s serve like a heavy­weight boxer.

Nadal fired back with in­ter­est and it took a low blow for him to be bro­ken when an un­lucky net cord gave him no chance.

The Spa­niard leapt to his feet to break back in the eighth game, how­ever, pulling Mon­fils wide across court be­fore slam­ming a two-hand back­hand into the va­cant cor­ner to level at 4-4.

The roar from the crowd al­most lifted the sta­dium’s closed roof and Nadal jumped high and pumped his fist in tri­umph.

The mo­ment felt like a turn­ing-point and so it proved.

Mon­fils promptly crum­bled on serve, bow­ing out on the sec­ond match point with a huge back­hand that flew just wide of the line. – Reuters

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