Rafael Nadal recorded his fifth straight victory – and 13th win overall in 15 meetings – against Gael Monfils at the Australian Open in just under three hours on Monday night for a place in his 30th Grand Slam championship quarter-final.
Ninth seed Nadal, who beat Roger Federer for the 2009 title, improved to 49-10 at Melbourne Park with a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 victory over fellow 30-year-old Monfils, the No. 6 seed from France. The 30 year old’s win denied Monfils his 250th tour-level match win on hard courts and gave the Spanish superstar his first Grand Slam victory over a player in the Top 10 of the Emirates ATP Rankings since beating then No. 2-ranked Novak Djokovic in the 2014 Roland Garros final.
Nadal experienced little resistance from Monfils through the first two sets, but when he hit a double fault and three unforced errors at 4-4 in the third set the encounter turned on its head. Monfils, also a crowd favourite in Melbourne, broke and saved four break points en route to clinching the 48-minute set. Although Nadal, struggled at times for groundstroke fluency, he performed well on serve and, courtesy of two service breaks in the fourth set, kept alive his chances of clinching a 15th major championship crown.
“I had chances to break in the third set,” said Nadal, during an on-court interview. “I didn’t play my best game at 4-4. You are [then] under pressure against a player like him. [In the fourth set] I think against Gael, I made a few mistakes in a row and played a good backhand on the break point.
“I’m very happy being in the quarter-finals in a Grand Slam after a couple of years without being there. It is very special for me and especially here in Australia, where it feels a little like home. The crowd is always supporting me.”
Nadal has a 6-2 advantage over his next opponent, World No. 3 Milos Raonic, in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, but Raonic won their most recent clash, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, in the Brisbane International presented by Suncorp 16 days ago.
“I have to play very, very well, that’s the only way,” said Nadal. “He beat me a couple of weeks ago in Brisbane. It was a tough game. He’s a top player with an amazing serve, so I need to be focused with my serve and wait for opportunities on my return.”
Monfils, now on a six-match losing streak against Top 10 opponents, reflected, “I think I really struggled with my return. I could not make enough returns at the beginning of the match. So that was a little bit inconvenience… It would have been a big help to have a better serve. I couldn’t reach all the spots at the beginning. [There was] not much accuracy. So it was just a battle to get back. Rafa fought, [and] found the way to fight. I would say he is a true champion so he deserves the match… I think he’s playing great. He’s a great returner… He’s on top of his game.