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Australian Open 2017: Rafael Nadal moves into the quarter-finals

The former World No. 1 comes through a tough test.

Rafael Nadal Australian Open
Nadal pushed to four sets by a fighting Monfils

14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal returned to the Australian Open quarter-finals with a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 victory over the sixth seed Gael Monfils in Melbourne on Monday. The ninth seed hit 21 winners and made 27 unforced errors in this 2 hours 55 minute contest to advance to the last-eight of the year's first Major for the first time since 2015.

Rafa looked to be heading to a straight-sets victory until he blinked towards the very end of the third set that allowed Monfils to come back into this match.

Nadal will next meet the third seed Milos Raonic, a player he lost to in the Brisbane International quarter-finals in three thrilling sets just over two weeks back.

Rafa recovers from a slow start

It wasn’t the best of starts for the 2009 champion. Rafa suffered from a slow start yet again and faced a break point in the very first game of the match. Just like he had done many times before, the Spaniard soon rediscovered his touch to not only hold but even break Monfils in the very next game for a 2-0 lead.

Rafa was presented with another break point with Monfils serving at 1-4 but the Frenchman managed to wriggle his way out of trouble. With the roof being shut, the indoor conditions did little to derail the Spaniard, who is traditionally not known to have great results indoors.

Monfils kept the crowd entertained with a wondrous backhand slice combined with a lob while Rafa was serving for the set. That could not rattle the ninth seed who soon pocketed the set, 6-3 with a forehand down-the-line that Monfils failed to return.

Rafa never relented and continued with the same commitment to every shot even in the second set. He found a very early breakthrough and went up 2-0 as Monfils kept on looking shaky. 

Monfils shows his firepower as Rafa blinks

Monfils, who looked to be lacking in a game plan till then, finally found an extra gear in the sixth game and broke back to level the set, 3-3. The joy was, however, short-lived as Rafa broke again in the very next game to wrest back the momentum.

The 14-time Grand Slam winner kept up his attacking approach, moving Monfils side to side with his forehands and wrapped up the second set with an identical score of 6-3.

In the third set, it was an improved show from the sixth seed, who prevented an early capitulation unlike the last two sets. He even forced a deuce on Rafa's serve in the fifth game although the southpaw held on.

Under pressure from his highly-accomplished rival, Monfils implemented some serve-and-volley tactics to keep the set on serve till 4-4.

It was in the ninth game that the Frenchman's patience and perseverance were finally rewarded when Rafa played a poor service game. Monfils broke the ninth seed to get a chance to serve for the third set.

In a dramatic tenth game, Monfils went down 0-40 on his serve before serving his way out of trouble to grab the set, 6-4.

That brought the Frenchman a new lease of life and he attacked Nadal with authority to draw first blood in the fourth set. As Rafa looked slightly passive, Monfils pounced on his opportunities to inch ahead to 4-2.

The former World No. 1 finally found his chance in the eighth game of the set. That aggression that had gone missing from his racquet was back again and Rafa rode on a blazing backhand to break back. 

Nadal earned a match point on the Monfils serve in the very next game which the Frenchman erased. Rafa did not have to wait long for he got his second match point soon after and converted it when Monfils's backhand sailed wide.


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