There will be no Rafa Slam. Not this year. Just three matches shy of winning a historic fourth straight Grand Slam title, Rafael Nadal was stunned by David Ferrer Wednesday in the Australian Open quarterfinals.
The final score of 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 in favor of Ferrer hardly tells the grim the story, one Nadal fans might not want to hear again.
A year ago a fresh and optimistic Nadal went into the Australian quarterfinals against Andy Murray but succumbed to a knee injury. This year, lightning struck again.
The two friends and compatriots, Nadal and Ferrer, opened the match as advertised with long, physical, punishing points. A quick put Ferrer up 1-0. But the real damage came in the second game, a near-20 minute epic that not only gave Ferrer a break lead but also left Nadal ailing and the tennis season in limbo.
Rafa managed to break back for 2-1, but on the changeover Nadal abruptly turned to his camp with a look of uncertainty and left the court with the trainer. After a 5-minute delay Nadal returned and appeared visibly worried while voicing his concern with his friends and family in his box as he resumed play.
Something was wrong. Something bad.
And from the look on Nadal’s face, it wasn’t a question of if he would win the match anymore, it was if he would finish. And to Rafa’s credit, he did.
“I can say nothing about the injury,” a dejected Nadal said afterward. “Seriously, I would prefer don’t talk a lot about the injury. Tonight, first of all, I don’t know nothing. Second thing, for respect to the winner and to a friend, I prefer to talk about the match. I think he played at a very high level. I just congratulate him and wish him all the best for the semifinal.
“I lost in quarterfinals another time. So I tried my best. I couldn’t do more. Tonight I think I played against a great player, a great opponent. Today I really can’t do more than what I did. So he played at a very high level, and I wasn’t able to compete against him tonight.”
As for the injury, was it a back, a hamstring, a thigh muscle tear or something else? It’s still not clear. But Rafa doesn’t want to make excuses.
“But you know what, for me is difficult come here and speak about. In Doha I wasn’t healthy. Today I have another problem. Seems like I always have problems when I lose, and I don’t want to have this image, no? I prefer don’t talk about that today. If you can respect that, will be a very nice thing for me. Thank you.”
A virus hit Nadal earlier this month which seemed to have dissipated Monday. Yet once again Nadal gets bitten by injury in a Slam.
Nadal battled an stomach injury in his lopsided loss to Juan Martin Del Potro at the 2009 US Open. At the French that year it was a knee issue he said derailed his title chances in that Soderling loss. And of course a year ago his knee flared up in the quarterfinals on this same day to Murray.
Call it bad luck, over playing, poor training, or whatever you want, the Spaniard to some degree is simply snakebit. And lately, it seems to be all or nothing with Nadal. Quite sad and unfortunate, really.
As for Ferrer, he now moves into the semifinal where Friday night he’ll play Murray. The Scot didn’t have it as easy as I thought he would against Alexandr Dolgopolov but he advanced in the end 7-5, 6-3, 6-7(3), 6-3.
Murray was tested early but once he got on top in the second set it looked like he would run away with the match. Murray quickly went up a break in the third though credit to Dolgo who never went away and kept fighting. The Ukrainian improbably stormed back to win the third. In the fourth Murray extinguished any comeback hopes by reeling off the first dozen or so points of the set to seal the match.
“I played well,” said Murray who returns to the semifinals for a second straight year. “I wouldn’t say I was necessarily in trouble at any stage. I was ahead in most of the sets. Getting ahead early in the fourth set made a big difference. But I thought I dealt with his game well. It was, yeah, just difficult to get into a rhythm. Did quite a lot of running. He won a lot of free points off his first serve. You know, it was a tough match. I thought I dealt with it pretty well.”
Later tonight, early morning it’s Roger Federer v. Novak Djokovic in the first semifinal. I’ll have a preview up later in the day.
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