Rafael Nadal rolls to 43rd Slam quarterfinal

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MELBOURNE, Australia — So much for the thought that Rafael Nadal’s bad back might hold him back at the Australian Open as he tries to break a tie with Roger Federer for the most Grand Slam singles titles won by a man.

Win three more matches this week, and Nadal will be the only one with 21.

So far, he hasn’t dropped a set through four matches, moving into his 13th quarterfinal at Melbourne Park and 43rd in all at major championships with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 victory over No. 16 seed Fabio Fognini on Monday.

Take it further, to the start of last year’s French Open, and Nadal has won his past 33 Grand Slam sets in a row.

He called the first set against Fognini “without a doubt” his “best level in the tournament.”

Why was that? Well, the 34-year-old Nadal offered a rather simple explanation: He came into the match finally having been able to practice for two days in a row, after having his work limited by the back pain that surfaced about three weeks ago.

Not that everything is perfect, mind you.

“My physical condition needs to keep improving,” Nadal said. “But I think this match helps, too. I was not able to practice the proper way for the last 19 days, but yesterday I started again to increase the amount of work (in) practice. And today has been a positive victory with some long points, so that helps for the next match.”

That’ll be on Wednesday against No. 5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who advanced when his fourth-round opponent, No. 9 Matteo Berrettini, pulled out of the tournament because of abdominal injury he picked up in his prior win.

Before Berrettini’s withdrawal officially was announced, Nadal accidentally broke the news by telling the media he’d be facing Tsitsipas.

Nadal is 6-1 against the 22-year-old Tsitsipas, including a 6-2, 6-4, 6-0 win for the Spaniard in the 2019 Australian Open semifinals.

The other quarterfinal on their half of the draw will be No. 4 Daniil Medvedev, the 2019 U.S. Open runner-up, against No. 7 Andrey Rublev in an all-Russian matchup between friends since childhood.

“Of course he knows my game. I know his game,” said Rublev, who has lost all three tour-level meetings with Medvedev. “But in the end, you still need to … see how the things are working or not working, how you’re feeling, and then you adapt.”

AVOIDING EXPECTATIONS

Serena Williams is performing a delicate balancing act at the Australian Open as she pursues a record-tying 24th major title.

Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, says Williams needs to think about what is in the offing – but not too much.

“The only way is not to think about the opportunities. Because when you think about the opportunities, you bring expectations, and we all know that expectations are not the best friend of the professional athletes,” Mouratoglou said. “The only way is to focus on how to get what you want. You don’t think about what you want. You just think about what you have to do.”

Williams faces No. 2 Simona Halep in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. The last time they played, in the 2019 Wimbledon final, Halep made just three unforced errors in a 6-2, 6-2 victory.

That part of a stretch in which Williams has gone 0-4 in Grand Slam title matches since claiming her most recent major singles trophy at the Australian Open in 2017 for No. 23, a record for the professional era.

Only Margaret Court, with 24 spanning the amateur and Open eras, has won more.

STRINGING ALONG

Paul McNamee, the former player and ex-CEO of the Australian Open, is now coaching quarterfinalist Hsieh Su-wei and recalls seeing her unusual, but precise, strokes go awry one day at a tournament in England.

He couldn’t figure out what was going on – until he realized she had broken a racket string, something that almost never happens to her.

“We had a bit of trauma because she had to get a re-string before the tournament. That’s once a year,” he said. “Players change rackets on the change of balls, right? She’ll go years with the same racket.”

McNamee said Taiwan’s Hsieh, who is ranked 71st and faces Naomi Osaka on Tuesday at Melbourne Park, doesn’t have a racket contract. So she has to buy her own.

Whatever 35-year-old Hsieh has been doing at the Australian Open, she should stick with it. She is the oldest woman in the professional era to get to a Grand Slam quarterfinal for the first time.

Giron cruises in 3rd set, beats Rybakov at Dallas Open

2023 Australian Open - Day 1
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DALLAS – Marcos Giron advanced to the second round of the Dallas Open with a 6-4, 6-7 (1), 6-1 victory over Alex Rybakov on Tuesday.

The seventh-seeded Giron, who reached the semifinals of the inaugural event a year ago, responded quickly after failing to close out the second set, winning the first five games of the deciding set.

Rybakov broke his fellow American when Giron was serving for the match in the second set. Then Rybakov won the first six points of the second-set tiebreaker.

“I’m really happy with how I was able to reset in the third and just get back to the game plan from the beginning and elevate,” Giron said. “He played well and served well and kind of hung in there.”

Eighth-seeded Adrian Mannarino of France won the final five points of a first-set tiebreaker and the last four games of the second to beat American Steve Johnson 7-6 (6), 6-2.

J.J. Wolf, the No. 6 seed, had little trouble in a 6-3, 6-3 victory over fellow American Brandon Holt.

John Isner, the fifth seed and unofficial tournament host in his hometown event, played later Tuesday. Like Giron, Isner lost in the semifinals last year.

Sock wins at Dallas Open, set to face top-seeded Fritz

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DALLAS – Wild-card entry Jack Sock opened with a 7-6 (2), 4-6, 6-4 victory over Ilya Ivashka at the Dallas Open, setting up a second-round meeting with top-seeded fellow American Taylor Fritz.

Sock broke Ivashka’s serve in the final game to win the match. Ivashka fell behind 2-0 to start the final set but broke Sock to get back on serve.

Down a break early in the second set, Ivashka rallied to force the deciding set after Sock cruised in the first-set tiebreaker.

The eighth-ranked Fritz is back for the second Dallas Open after losing in the semifinals as the top seed in the inaugural edition of the indoor hard-court event last year. Defending champion Reilly Opelka isn’t in the field.