Nadal Sweeps Past Tiafoe Into Australian Open Semi-finals
Spaniard to play Tsitsipas in 30th major semi-final
Rafael Nadal was business-like and at times ruthless in his victory over Frances Tiafoe on Tuesday night at the Australian Open. The 2009 champion ended the run of the #NextGenATP American 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in one hour and 47 minutes for a place in his 30th Grand Slam championship semi-final.
The second-seeded Spanish superstar, who is bidding to capture his 18th major crown in his first tournament since September 2018 at the US Open, won 84 per cent of his first service points and struck 29 winners past Tiafoe, who committed 34 unforced errors.
"I came here with positive feelings," said Nadal. "I have done a lot of things well before the tournament started. Then, you have to compete, you have to win matches, because if you haven't competed for a while it's always a challenge. It's so special to be back where I am today. It means that I started the season in a good way again, and that's very positive for me."
Nadal will next challenge No. 14 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece for the third time. He leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 2-0, with final wins in 2018 on the clay of the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell and on the hard courts of the Rogers Cup.
"Stefanos is one of the best players in the world," said Nadal. "To have the chance to be in the final, I need to play my best, and that's what I am looking for."
Nadal won 14 of the first 17 points — including the first service break in the second game — in an electric start by keeping his groundstroke length consistently deep to push Tiafoe around the court and behind the baseline. At 0-3, Tiafoe slowed down his serve to settle his nerves, and began to work his way into the match, but Nadal went 15 for 15 on first serve and finished the opener with consecutive forehand winners.
From 5-3 up in the first set, Nadal won 12 of the next 13 points to maintain control against Tiafoe, who missed out on two break point chances — due to forehand errors — when his Spanish opponent served at 2-1 in the second set. Tiafoe found his service rhytmn, but at times he rushed and hit closer to the lines. Nadal was simply ruthless in striking anything short for a winner, yet Tiafoe resisted the pressure to save three set points when serving at 3-5. Nadal closed out to love in the next game, finishing with a smash winner from the baseline.
Tiafoe, with a 1-5 record in fifth sets, lost his first service game for the third time to immediately be placed on the back foot in the third set. Three groundstroke errors handed Nadal another break for a 5-2 advantage, before the World No. 2 closed out to 15 with Tiafoe hitting a backhand wide.
Only Roger Federer (43), Novak Djokovic (34), who plays Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park on Wednesday, and Jimmy Connors (31) have reached more major semi-finals than Nadal in the Open Era (since April 1968).
“It was tough,” said Tiafoe. “It was tough definitely. I mean, he's a hell of a player, man. His ball is kicking up like crazy. [The] court was really slow. Yeah, it was just tough to really hit the room. I felt like I was hitting a lot of balls long early. Probably overplaying. I got in a decent rhythm there for a hot sec, but he's just tough and he's played on that court, so he's more comfortable than me.
“When you're playing a guy that good, you can't even get some holding pressure on him, it's tough. My body was definitely hurting. I'm more or less happy to be done… He did an unbelievable job of defending, obviously making me play the extra balls. He's done that for, I don't know, how many years? Hats off to him. He played a great match.”
Tiafoe had been bidding to become the youngest American man to reach the semi-finals at the Australian Open since Andy Roddick (20 years, 149 days) in 2003.