Melbourne – Rafael Nadal shrugged off his derailed bid for the Grand Slam record with a pledge to keep “fighting” but the Spaniard leaves the Australian Open with familiar regrets after bowing out to a rising talent on Wednesday.
World No. 2 Nadal appeared set to cruise into the semifinals at Melbourne Park but was beaten 3-6, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 7-5 by Stefanos Tsitsipas, an opponent he destroyed in the semifinals in 2019.
The 34-year-old has now lost in the quarterfinals in consecutive years, having been outplayed by Dominic Thiem in 2020.
Nadal is still tied with Roger Federer with a record 20 Grand Slam titles and will look to take sole possession of the mark at his beloved French Open. There are questions, however, about his ability to win another hardcourt major as the next generation of baseline pounders matures.
“Just another story in my tennis career,” Nadal told reporters with a rueful smile.
“That’s it. Another match I lost here in Australia with important advantage. (I) just accept and keep going. That’s the life.
“I am playing against one of the best players of the world, so you always have to expect the best from the opponent and be ready for anything.”
Nadal, who won his only Australian Open in 2009, had his preparation for this year’s tournament disrupted by a lower back strain that kept him out of the ATP Cup.
He said playing more matches ahead of the tournament may have helped but denied that his fitness was lacking as Tsitsipas took their match into a fifth set.
Nadal has had plenty of injury problems at Melbourne Park in the past and lost in the final on four occasions. He snorted when asked if he was cursed Down Under.
“No, no, no,” he said. “Not at all feeling unlucky for me and not at all am I complaining about my luck here in Australia.
“Everyone have what (they) deserve. Tennis isn’t a sport that is fair. I have what I deserved in my career, and over here in Australia I had chances, but I was not able to convert it. That’s all. I didn’t deserve more.”
There were no fans at Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday, the fifth and final day of lockdown in Melbourne, but defending champion Novak Djokovic may have been cheering Tsitsipas from his hotel room as he knocked out Nadal.
The Spaniard’s elimination not only removes a roadblock in the Serb’s bid for an 18th Grand Slam title but also ensures Djokovic will celebrate his 311th week as world No. 1 next month, which means he’ll break Federer’s record of 310.
Nadal, meanwhile, will head off and regroup.
“Life continues. I hope to keep having chances,” he said. “Well, I (am) going to keep fighting for it.”
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