Australian Open: Nadal storms into fourth round, Osaka stunned

Spain's Rafael Nadal hits a return against Russia's Karen Khachanov. (AFP)
Spain's Rafael Nadal hits a return against Russia's Karen Khachanov. (AFP)

Olympic gold medalist Alexander Zverev had a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Radu Albot to set up a fourth-round match against Denis Shapovalov



By AFP/AP

Published: Fri 21 Jan 2022, 6:09 PM

Rafael Nadal dropped a set for the first time at this year’s Australian Open but played his best match since injury to overcome Karen Khachanov and steam into the fourth round on Friday.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion rolled into a two-sets lead and was looking to sweep it in straight sets, before the Russian 28th seed hit back to take the third.

That stung the Spanish sixth seed into action as he broke early to power home.

Nadal won 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 in 2hr 50min in a late night match on Rod Laver Arena and will face either Russian 18th seed Aslan Karatsev or Frenchman Adrian Mannarino in the round of 16.

“It’s a very special week for me coming back from where I have been, every time I come back here to play is a very special thing,” Nadal told the crowd, a nod to the foot injury which ended his 2021 season in August.

“I had my best match so far without a doubt since I came back.

“I went through some very tough times in the last year and a half, but nights like this mean everything to me, that’s a lot of energy in my pocket to keep going, keep fighting every single day.”

The big-hitting Russian had no answers for the quality of Nadal’s shotmaking in the opening two sets, with Nadal looking in sparkling form after his health and injury concerns in the months leading up to the year’s first major.

Just when it looked as though Nadal was about to have an early night, Khachanov fought back to take the third set and stop the Spaniard’s momentum.

But Nadal bounced back with a break in the fourth set with a laser down-the-line backhand winner which prompted a screaming fist-pumping celebration.

It was all Nadal from there to take the match as he reached the round of 16 in Melbourne for the 15th time, and his 51st in Grand Slams.

Khachanov was Nadal’s first top-60 opponent of the new year and Nadal now leads him 8-0 in their meetings.

Anisimova upsets Osaka

Within an hour of her third-round loss at the Australian Open, defending champion Naomi Osaka had consigned it to the past.

It’s part of her new resolution for 2022. No dwelling on what’s already happened.

Osaka had two match points against 60th-ranked Amanda Anisimova in the third set Friday, and she missed two backhands.

Japan's Naomi Osaka after losing a point against Amanda Anisimova of the US. (AFP)
Japan's Naomi Osaka after losing a point against Amanda Anisimova of the US. (AFP)

Anisimova held serve to force a tiebreaker, which she dominated, and finished with an ace for a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) comeback victory over the four-time major champion.

In doing so, the 20-year-old American ensured that the so-called final-before-the-final — a much-anticipated fourth-round showdown between Osaka and top-ranked Ash Barty — won’t happen.

“I’m not sure if I’m going to have regrets about those two match points,” Osaka said. “Like, I thought she played really well. But I can’t really look in the past anymore, you know?

“Like I just have to focus on what I can do in the future to hopefully evade those situations.”

It’s the fourth time Osaka has been unable to defend a major title, and the 11th time in her 21 trips to Grand Slam events she has been knocked out in the third round, including last year’s U.S. Open.

Ash Barty of Australia waves during an on-court interview after defeating Camila Giorgi of Italy. (AP)
Ash Barty of Australia waves during an on-court interview after defeating Camila Giorgi of Italy. (AP)

Barty is hoping to become the first Australian woman to win the championship here since 1978.

She advanced to the fourth round with a 6-2, 6-3 win over 30th-seeded Camila Giorgi and has only conceded eight games and spent less than three hours on court.

A career break a few years back, to play professional cricket, did Barty a world of good. Since her return, she won her first Grand Slam title at the 2019 French Open — beating Anisimova in the semifinals — and won Wimbledon last year.

The hype surrounding the fourth round didn’t impact her planning.

“Each match is uncertain. You just have to navigate your way through as best you can that given moment,” Barty said. “I’ve done a good job of that this week. Now it’s exciting to get to play Amanda again.”

Osaka’s loss means Victoria Azarenka remains the last woman to successfully defend an Australian Open singles title. She overpowered 15th-seeded Elina Svitolina 6-0, 6-2 to reach the fourth round at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2016.

She had her son with her at a news conference and five-year-old Leo, wearing his sunglasses and sitting on his mother’s knee, described the two-time champion’s form as: “Awesome!”

The 2012 and 2013 titlist will next play French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova, who rallied from a set and a break down to beat 26th-seeded Jelena Ostapenko 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Since a quarterfinal run in Australia in 2016, Azarenka lost first-round matches last year and in 2019, and missed the hard-court tournament in 2017, 2018 and 2020.

Victoria Azarenka of Belarus sits with her son Leo during a press conference following her third round win over Elina Svitolina of Ukraine. (AP)
Victoria Azarenka of Belarus sits with her son Leo during a press conference following her third round win over Elina Svitolina of Ukraine. (AP)

Other fourth-round pairings that were set up Friday include fifth-seeded Maria Sakkari against 21st-seeded Jessica Pegula and No. 8 Paula Badosa against Madison Keys, who held off Wang Qiang 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2) on Friday.

On the men’s side, Olympic gold medalist Alexander Zverev had a 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Radu Albot, a 124th-ranked qualifier from Moldova, to set up a fourth-round match against Denis Shapovalov.

The 14th-seeded Shapovalov beat No. 23 Reilly Opelka 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini fended off 18-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz 6-2, 7-6 (3), 4-6, 2-6, 7-6 (5).

Miomir Kecmanovic continued to make the most of the absence of fellow Serbian Novak Djokovic, reaching the fourth round at a major for the first time with a 6-4, 6-7 (8), 6-2, 7-5 win over 25th-seeded Lorenzo Sonego.

He will next play 17th-seeded Gael Monfils, who beat No. 16 Cristian Garin 7-6 (4), 6-1, 6-3.

Kecmanovic had been drawn to play the top-ranked Djokovic, a nine-time Australian Open champion, in the first round. But Djokovic was deported on the eve of the tournament for failing to meet Australia’s strict Covid-19 regulations.


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