Tales of Rafael Nadal’s physical and/or mental demise have seemingly been greatly exaggerated.
The No. 9 seed and former No. 1 made a statement on Wednesday at the Australian Open, taking down No. 3 seed Milos Raonic in straight sets 6-4, 7-6(7), 6-4 to move into the semifinals.
Raonic appeared uncomfortable from the get-go as he was unable to overpower the former No. 1, who refused to miss from the baseline. The Canadian tried to press at the net but came away with barely over 50 percent success in his 52 trips forward. The second set was a tighter affair as the Spaniard was forced to save six set points. Serving at 4-5 in the third, Raonic dropped serve at love before the handshake.
It was a revenge win for Nadal, who lost to the Canadian in the Brisbane quarterfinals earlier this month.
“He beat me two weeks ago in Brisbane, so I decided to go more inside the court on the return,” Nadal said. “I knew there were going to be tough moments in the match, he has one of the top two serves on the tour and he’s able to play so aggressive on the return.”
Nadal says he’s ready to take the mental struggles of a comeback from injury as a challenge in 2017.
“It’s normal even when I was winning a lot I had doubts, so you can imagine I had a lot more when I’m not winning and have injuries,” Nadal said. “You’re ready to work more…I had a great career but a lot of tough moments, so that makes me enjoy even more the good moments I have, especially on this unbelievable court.”
In the semis Nadal will meet Grigor Dimitrov after the No. 15 seed extended his winning streak to 10 matches, turning what looked to be a grinding affair into a breeze by dismissing No. 11 seed David Goffin 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.
“In the first set, it was absolutely nerve-racking,” Dimitrov said. “I was not striking the ball as well as I could. I think I was a bit passive, but with each game and with each point I found my groove, so I’m just happy right now.”
Nadal says it looks like Dimitrov has finally come into his own after flopping years back under the pressure of the “Baby Fed” mantle.
“Grigor is a great player,” Nadal said. “Everybody thought he was gonna be a very top, top player before today, and finally he started the season unbelievable. He’s playing so, so good. He’s very confident, he’s playing very well, and I’m going to have a very tough match. I know I’m going to have to play my best tennis if I’m going to have a chance.”
Nadal has won seven of his eight encounters with Dimitrov, but lost their most recent at 2016 Beijing in straight sets.
Tomorrow in Melbourne will feature the blockbuster all-Swiss semifinal of (17) Roger Federer vs. (4) Stan Wawrinka.
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