Australian Open 2019: Rafa Nadal blows away Tomas Berdych, faces 21-year-old Frances Tiafoe in quarters

Rafa Nadal routed Tomas Berdych 6-0 6-1 7-6(4) in a centre court masterclass to charge into the quarter-finals. (Reuters)

Rafa Nadal routed Tomas Berdych 6-0 6-1 7-6(4) in a centre court masterclass to charge into the quarter-finals of the Australian Open on Sunday. The 2009 champion was relentless at Rod Laver Arena, claiming the first two sets in an astonishing 51 minutes as the former world number four Czech suffered a dreadful start. Berdych rallied to grab a set point off Nadal in the final stanza but an untimely malfunction of the serve clock rattled him during the ensuing tiebreak and he bowed out slapping a backhand into the net.

Bidding for an 18th Grand Slam title, second seed Nadal booked his 11th quarter-final at Melbourne Park and will meet unseeded American sensation Frances Tiafoe. Tiafoe, the son of Sierra Leone immigrants, celebrated his 21st birthday on Sunday by upsetting Grigor Dimitrov at Melbourne Arena.

The match is certain to be billed as an intriguing clash of generations but Nadal has already shown disdain for hyped-up youth. He destroyed Alex de Minaur, the highly regarded 19-year-old local, in straight sets in the previous round.

“When you have younger players coming, they have always more attention to everyone,” the 32-year-old told reporters. “Of course, he’s dangerous. He’s in (the) quarter-finals. He won great matches during the whole event. Going to be a tough one.”

Untested by three Australian opponents at the tournament, Nadal may have been grateful to Berdych for belatedly finding his game. The French Open champion Nadal fought off a break point in the first game of the match but that was the only pressure he felt in a woeful first set for Berdych, who landed barely a third of his first serves.

The big Czech double-faulted before meekly netting a backhand to fall 2-0 behind and lost the set in 34 minutes when the Spaniard swooped forward to lace a forehand down the line. Nadal ploughed on to 3-0 in the second set before Berdych finally held, raising ironic cheers in the terraces.

The memory of Berdych’s famous quarter-final win over the Spaniard at the 2015 tournament can never have seemed foggier for the 33-year-old, whose 2018 season was cut in half by a back injury.

To his credit, though, he dug in for the third, finding his monster serve and pounding forehand. He saved two break points at 5-5 and prised a set point in the following game with a blazing forehand down the line. Nadal ripped it out of his hands, however, with some forehand magic of his own.

Berdych battled on to lead 4-3 in the tiebreak but became rattled when the shot clock failed. After carping at the chair umpire, he committed two unforced errors. Nadal needed no further excuse, and he fired a forehand winner to set up two match points before a frustrated Berdych fell firing into the net.

Birthday boy Frances Tiafoe topples Grigor Dimitrov to reach quarters 

Frances Tiafoe defeated Grigor Dimitrov 7-5 7-6(6) 6-7(1) 7-5 in the fourth round of the Australian Open. (Reuters)

Unseeded American Frances Tiafoe gifted himself the perfect 21st birthday present by stunning Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov 7-5 7-6(6) 6-7(1) 7-5 in the fourth round of the Australian Open on Sunday. The last American man standing at Melbourne Park, Tiafoe was treated to an enthusiastic rendition of Happy Birthday by the Melbourne Arena crowd after sealing a spot in his first Grand Slam quarter-final.

“I told my parents 10 years ago that I was gonna do this, I was gonna change their lives and my life,” an emotional Tiafoe said courtside. “Now I’m in the quarters of a slam at 21. I can’t believe it, man.”

Tiafoe had been forced to fend off four early break points in a sluggish start before taking his own opportunities on Dimitrov’s serve to claim the opening set. Former Melbourne semi-finalist Dimitrov had three sets points to draw level but Tiafoe refused to wilt under the pressure and reeled off five straight points to move two sets ahead.

Dimitrov, who has slipped just outside the top 20 in the world after early exits in his last three Grand Slams appearances, would not go out without a fight, though, and took the third set in another tiebreak. Tiafoe was back on top in the fourth and clinched a decisive break in the 11th game before serving out to seal a quarter-final meeting with second seed Rafa Nadal.

In his trademark post-match celebration, Tiafoe took off his t-shirt, flexed his right bicep and emulated the ‘Silencer’ routine of basketball great LeBron James. The first week in Melbourne represents a change in tennis fortunes for the American, having started the 2019 season with three defeats in Hopman Cup followed by an opening-round exit at the Sydney International.

Tiafoe grabbed the headlines with a second-round upset of fifth seed Kevin Anderson on Margaret Court Arena before his fighting spirit and athleticism endeared him to the crowd in a five-set marathon against Italian Andreas Seppi.

The world number 39 faces an even more daunting task against 17-time major champion Nadal, who recorded a comfortable win over Czech Tomas Berdych in three sets.

Roberto Bautista Agut upsets Marin Cilic to make Australian quarters 

Roberto Bautista Agut celebrates after winning the match against Croatia’s Marin Cilic. (REUTERS)

Roberto Bautista Agut held firm in a tense five-set duel to knock sixth seed Marin Cilic out of the Australian Open and book his maiden Grand Slam quarter-final on Sunday. The 22nd-seeded Spaniard captured the decisive break in the ninth game of the final set before serving out strongly to claim a 6-7(6) 6-3 6-2 4-6 6-4 win at Margaret Court Arena.

Bautista Agut, who had lost the fourth-round match of a Grand Slam in each of his nine previous attempts, threw his arms up in the air and roared in triumph. It was Bautista Agut’s third five-set win this week at Melbourne Park, continuing a remarkable run that has also included victories over an injury-hobbled Andy Murray, Australian John Millman and 10th seed Karen Khachanov.

“I’ve been playing very good tennis,” the 30-year-old said. “I did a great job this pre-season and it’s been a great month for me and for my tennis.” Bautista Agut will next face 20-year-old Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, who overcame defending champion Roger Federer in one of the biggest upsets of the tournament this year. “Now I want to recover well, to enjoy the win I had today. We will see on Tuesday,” he added.

In a splendid start to the season, Bautista Agut claimed his ninth career title at the Qatar Open earlier this month, beating Stan Wawrinka, Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych in consecutive matches to lift the trophy.

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