MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Rafa Nadal shrugged off his derailed bid for the Grand Slam record with a pledge to keep “fighting” but the Spaniard leaves the Australian Open with familiar regrets after bowing out to a rising talent on Wednesday.
World number two Nadal appeared set to cruise into the last four at Melbourne Park but was overhauled 3-6 2-6 7-6(4) 6-4 7-5 by Stefanos Tsitsipas, an opponent he destroyed in the 2019 semi-finals.
The 34-year-old has now lost in the quarter-finals two years running, having been outplayed by eventual finalist Dominic Thiem last year.
Level on 20 Grand Slam titles with Roger Federer, Nadal will hope to set the record straight at his beloved French Open but there may be queries about his chances of another major win on hardcourts as the next generation of baseline pounders matures.
“Just another story in my tennis career,” Nadal told reporters with a rueful smile.
“That’s it. Another match I lost here in Australia with important advantage. (I) just accept and keep going. That’s the life.
“I am playing against one of the best players of the world, so you always have to expect the best from the opponent and be ready for anything.”
Nadal, who won his only Australian Open crown in 2009, had a disrupted preparation for the Grand Slam this year, with a lower back strain putting him out of the ATP Cup.
He said more matches in the leadup may have helped but denied he was short of fitness as Tsitsipas took their match into a fifth set.
Nadal has had plenty of injury problems at Melbourne Park in the past and been stopped four times in the finals. He snorted when asked if he was cursed Down Under.
“No, no, no. Not at all feeling unlucky for me and not at all am I complaining about my luck here in Australia,” he said.
“Everyone have what (they) deserve. Tennis isn’t a sport that is fair. I have what I deserved in my career, and over here in Australia I had chances, but I was not able to convert it. That’s all. I didn’t deserve more.”
On the fifth and final day of lockdown in Melbourne, there were no fans at Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday but defending champion Novak Djokovic may have been cheering Tsitsipas from his hotel room as he knocked out Nadal.
The Spaniard’s elimination not only removes a roadblock in the Serb’s bid for an 18th Grand Slam title but also ensures Djokovic will celebrate his 311th week as world number one next month, surpassing Roger Federer’s all-time record of 310.
Djokovic will meet Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev in Thursday’s semi-final, while Tsitsipas faces Russian Daniil Medvedev in the other semi on Friday.
Nadal will head off and regroup, he said.
“Life continues. I hope to keep having chances. Well, I (am) going to keep fighting for it.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Christian Radnedge)