Nadal wary of Thiem; Zverev prepares for resurgent Wawrinka
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
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.