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Australian Open 2017: Nadal looks for semi-final spot against injury-prone Raonic

The two will play each other in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open tomorrow.

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 23:  Rafael Nadal of Spain plays a forehand in his fourth round match against Gael Monfils of France on day eight of the 2017 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 23, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Nadal is inching closer to a result fans have been eagerly awaiting – a Fedal final

As we near the end stages of the first Grand Slam of the year, fans are inching closer and closer to seeing old heroes back on centrestage. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have both been in sublime form this tournament, and ably aided by the exits of top 2 seeds Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic early on in the tournament, have both neared the pinnacle. While Federer won his Grand Slam quarter-final against Mischa Zverev in straight sets, Rafael Nadal will take on the in-form 3rd seed Milos Raonic.

With Raonic’s form last year, and going into the end of the year, many may not have given Nadal a hope here. But the Canadian is struggling with consistency, and old injuries that saw the now 25-year-old’s career intermittently derailed, have come back to plague him.

Despite qualifying for the ATP World Tour Finals in London at the end of the year, Raonic picked up an ankle injury – one that gave Andy Murray the World No. 1 title, a title the Scot kept with a finals defeat over defending champion Novak Djokovic.

In the last of the Open’s quarter-finals, it will be a Raonic-Nadal match where Nadal will be the favourite to win. It has always been argued that Raonic’s frequent injury woes have significantly hampered the young Canadian from achieving his full potential. 

The two have already played each other this year – at a tournament that was Nadal’s first since his injury layoff following his successful clay court season last year; Nadal’s injuries had prevented him from playing Wimbledon and the French Open, and the Spaniard was ousted early on at the US Open – in which time period he had already begun to dial back significantly on the tournaments he had been playing. 

Both players are top – 10 seeds – Nadal at 9th, Raonic at 4th. But it is Nadal who leads the pair’s head-to-head record, with nine wins to two for the Spaniard.

Nadal lost the pair’s most recent match against each other – at the quarter-finals of Brisbane this year, but scalped the first set off Raonic early on to get there. He has also been delivering consistently strong wins here in Melbourne – including the long matches.

That is primarily because those long fought-out wins have displayed to fans the Rafa of old, a Nadal that has not flagged on stamina and energy and can consistently dig deep for those crucial shots. This Nadal has taken big, convincing wins and looked all set for that much-sought-after Fedal final.

Of the four matches Raonic has played so far, only two – his first two – came in straight sets, with the Canadian reaching for victories in Melbourne. Nadal, meanwhile, has played attacking games to beat some powerful opponents. 

This time, the Spaniard, who is considered one of the best counterpunches in the game, has said he will “need to attack Raonic” in their game tomorrow, or he is “dead”.

Physically, Rafa Nadal is in the best shape he has been in in years, but now it is the mental battle the iconic Spaniard will want to conquer. Looking to fight Raonic’s “huge serve”, Nadal will bring his top game in the quarter-final, one where he will fight for lost glory, prestige and the chance  to return to Grand Slam glory.

And there’s no better time for him than now.

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