Nadal wary of Thiem; Zverev pre­pares for resur­gent Wawrinka

Muscat Daily - - SPORTS -

Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia - Rafael Nadal is tak­ing noth­ing for granted in his Aus­tralian Open semi-fi­nal against Do­minic Thiem de­spite own­ing a 100 per cent record at Grand Slams against the slick Aus­trian.

At stake for both men is a last-four clash against ei­ther resur­gent veteran Swiss Stan Wawrinka or Ger­man young gun Alexan­der Zverev.

Nadal was stretched to four sets for the first time in the tour­na­ment against ex­plo­sive Aus­tralian Nick Kyr­gios in the fourth round. But the Spaniard warned he was get­ting bet­ter by the day as he looks to add to his 2009 Mel­bourne Park ti­tle and draw level with Roger Fed­erer on 20 Grand Slam crowns.

“I think I am mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion. Ev­ery day I’m play­ing a lit­tle bit bet­ter,” said Nadal, who is aim­ing for a sev­enth Aus­tralian Open semi, while Thiem is gun­ning for his first.

The two have met 13 times be­fore and Nadal holds a 9-4 edge but 5-0 in Grand Slams, where he has claimed three of his last four vic­to­ries over the Aus­trian. Thiem was the man he beat in the last two French Open fi­nals and the top seed has a lot of time for how the 26-year-old goes about his busi­ness.

“I couldn’t be hap­pier to be in the quar­ter-fi­nals,” he said, as he con­tin­ues his search for a maiden Grand Slam ti­tle.

“I’m also very ex­cited (to play Nadal).”

Like Thiem, Zverev is seen as one of the play­ers ca­pa­ble of break­ing the stran­gle­hold of Nadal, Roger Fed­erer and No­vak Djokovic at the Ma­jor tour­na­ments.

But he must first get past Wawrinka, who is in­cred­i­bly the only man other than the three greats to win the Mel­bourne Park ti­tle since 2006.

Wawrinka up­set the tra­di­tional or­der in 2014 when be beat Nadal and went on to win two more Grand Slams, be­fore knee surgery in 2017 halted his march.

“I’ve been feel­ing great on the court, on the prac­tice court, putting a lot of work in phys­i­cally and ten­nis-wise,” said Wawrinka, who will have to over­turn a 0-2 record against the sev­enth seed.

Zverev, who has huge po­ten­tial but has yet to go be­yond the quar­ter-fi­nals in 18 Grand Slams, knows he has his work cut out against one of the tough­est and most ex­pe­ri­enced com­peti­tors around.

“He showed why he’s a Grand Slam cham­pion, beat­ing

Medvedev, com­ing back from two-sets-to-one down, play­ing great ten­nis. He's still one of the tough­est play­ers to play, es­pe­cially here in Aus­tralia,” said the 22-year-old.

Halep, Mugu­ruza close on hat-tricks

Si­mona Halep and Gar­bine Mugu­ruza are each chas­ing a hat-trick of Grand Slam ti­tles as they head into Wed­nes­day’s quar­ter-fi­nals in an Aus­tralian Open where most of the top seeds have fallen by the way­side.

Af­ter top seed Ash­leigh Barty, Halep is the high­est re­main­ing seed at four and is in full flow, not drop­ping a set in reach­ing the last eight. De­spite sev­eral shocks in Mel­bourne, Halep will be ex­pected to de­feat 28th seed Anett Kon­taveit of Es­to­nia and the Ro­ma­nian’s coach said she has learnt to bet­ter con­trol her emo­tions.

“She’s still as stressed on the court as she al­ways is, but she’s learn­ing ways to deal with it and to han­dle it,” said the Aus­tralian

Dar­ren Cahill.

Like Halep, the 26 year old Mugu­ruza has also won the French Open and Wim­ble­don, in 2016 and 2017 re­spec­tively.

But she has gone in the op­po­site di­rec­tion to Halep, who is set to move up a spot to two in the world rank­ings next week.

Mugu­ruza, like Halep a for­mer num­ber one, is now down at 32nd in the world.

But with fel­low Spaniard Con­chita Mar­tinez back as her coach as of Novem­ber, she is fi­nally re­turn­ing to form.

Mugu­ruza faces 30th-seeded Anas­ta­sia Pavlyuchen­kova in the quar­ter-fi­nals - the third time in four years the Rus­sian has reached the last eight. She has never gone any far­ther.

The 47 year old Mar­tinez is try­ing to tem­per ex­pec­ta­tions of what she and Mugu­ruza can achieve to­gether.

“Not only coach­ing... the ex­pe­ri­ence as a player, the men­tal part, I went through that and more things,” said Mar­tinez.

Sofia Kenin

Gar­bine Mugu­ruza

Si­mona Halep

Do­minic Thiem

Alexan­der Zverev

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