The Associated Press
MELBOURNE, Australia–Rafael Nadal is back to feeling healthy.
Probably not a coincidence that he’s back in the Australian Open semi-finals.
Playing his familiar brand of court-covering, ball-bashing, opponent-frustrating tennis, Nadal claimed 20 of his first 23 service points and saved the only two break chances he faced–ending American Frances Tiafoe’s best Grand Slam run with a dominating 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory earlier today.
“I feel lucky to be where I am after all the things I went through,” said Nadal, who quit during his quarter-final at Melbourne Park a year ago because of a right leg problem and again during his semi-final at the U.S. Open in September because of a painful right knee.
He also had off-season surgery on his right ankle.
“Not easy situations,” Nadal said, summing it up.
Nadal, 32, reached his 30th major semi-final and prevented Tiafoe from getting to his first–two days after he turned 21.
“I knew he was going to bring crazy intensity,” Tiafoe said. “I knew the ball was going to be jumping.
“I knew if he got hold of a forehand, it was going to be barbecued chicken.
“But point in, point out, I’ve never seen someone so locked in,” he added.
The two hadn’t played each other before, though they did practice together at Roland Garros back in 2014 when Tiafoe was a teen in the junior competition.
Entering this year’s Australian Open, the 39th-ranked Tiafoe never had been past the third round at a major.
But he knocked off two-time Slam runner-up Kevin Anderson and 20th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov on the way to the quarter-finals, drawing plenty of attention for his play–and his bare-chested, biceps-slapping celebrations inspired by LeBron James.
It all came to a screeching halt against Nadal, a 17-time major champion.
Nadal now goes up against another opponent much younger than he is, 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas, who upset Roger Federer in the fourth round.
The 14th-seeded Tsitsipas became the first player from Greece to earn a semi-final berth at a major–beating No. 22 Roberto Bautista Agut 7-5, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (2) earlier today.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Tsitsipas said about his match-up against Nadal.
“I feel all right with my game,” he noted. “I feel like I can do something good against him.”
Asked about all of these kids trying to elbow their way to the top of tennis, Nadal smiled and said, “They can wait a little bit.”
On the women’s side, Petra Kvitova returned to a Grand Slam semi-final with a 6-1, 6-4 win over Ash Barty today.
She will face American Danielle Collins next.