MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Top seed Rafael Nadal will expect to continue his smooth progress into the quarter-finals of the Australian Open on Sunday before Nick Kyrgios and Grigor Dimitrov meet in a battle royal of potential as yet unfulfilled.
Spaniard Nadal has yet to give up a set in his three matches so far and the 31-year-old has a similar record in his three previous meetings with his fourth round opponent, Argentine world number 26 Diego Schwartzman.
While Nadal won the first of his 16 grand slam titles a few days after his 19th birthday, the two men whose clash follows his match have yet to join the major winners’ club despite such honors being long predicted for them.
Dimitrov, now 26, has got closest with his trip to the last four at Wimbledon in 2014 and his part in a thriller of a Melbourne Park semi-final against Nadal last year.
The Bulgarian third seed suffered his first loss at the hands of Kyrgios in front of a partisan crowd at the Brisbane International a few weeks ago and knows the crowd on Rod Laver Arena will be giving the 22-year-old their full support.
“I’ve played against the local, so to speak, that’s part of the game,” he said after his third round win over Andrey Rublev.
“I’m very excited to just play, to go out there and compete. I appreciate my wins now. To get to play another day, this itself should get you already in a different mindset coming into whoever you got to play.”
Kyrgios, who has often melted under pressure, went on to win the Brisbane title and showed considerable composure in his four-set third round victory over Jo Wilfried Tsonga.
The sometimes hot-headed 17th seed believes he has made considerable improvements to his game since his best previous Melbourne Park showing, a quarter-final loss to Andy Murray 2015.
“The last couple years I feel like I haven’t been physically ready to play these long matches and back it up,” Kyrgios said.
“I did a really good off-season this year. Physically I feel really good. Just gives me confidence in my game.
“I know mentally I’m a lot better, as well. Obviously getting a good start in Brisbane helped.”
With British surprise package Kyle Edmund and Italian Andreas Seppi facing off on Hisense Arena for the right to fill the bracket opposite them in the quarter-final draw, both players will see defeat as an opportunity lost.
With just one former grand slam champion remaining in the women’s draw, second seed Caroline Wozniacki and fourth seed Elina Svitolina will feel the same if they cannot get past Magdalena Rybarikova and Denisa Allertova respectively.
Order of play
(Writing by Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; Editing by John O’Brien)