AO 2022 Day 9: Barty and Nadal keep flying

Champions laid down their marker on Tuesday with semi-final tickets up for grabs at Melbourne Park.

Rafael Nadal / Quart de finale Open d'Australie 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

The draw board has shrunk down to just a few names at Australian Open 2022.

Some scintillating matches kept the crowds at Melbourne Park well beyond midnight. Whoever had tickets were well and truly spoilt.

Here are the key headlines from Day 9 at the ‘Happy Slam.’

Rafa within reach, Berrettini battles on

Most commentators and writers have run out of words to describe the brilliance and longevity of Rafael Nadal.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion is just two matches away for an historic No.21 thanks to another archetypal performance of desire and determination.

Nadal edged into seventh (semi-final) heaven at the Australian Open with a fiery 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 triumph over Canadian youngster Denis Shapovalov.

It was a brutal match, Nadal physically hampered with stomach pains from the third set onwards, but his champion’s instincts clicked in for the deciding set.

Rafael Nadal / Quart de finale Open d'Australie 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

“I’m not 21 anymore,” said 2009 winner Nadal. “Was a little bit of miracle. I was destroyed physically, honestly.

“Of course the last six months have been a lot of doubts if I would be able to keep going. But now I feel good. We are in a position that we won a tournament (Melbourne 250), we are in semi-finals of Australian Open, so that's amazing for me.

“It’s just a present of life that I am here playing tennis again.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Nadal dismissed Matteo Berrettini in straight sets in their only previous meeting in the 2019 US Open semi-finals. It’s a rematch but in Melbourne, after the world No.7 withstood a gallant effort from Gael Monfils.

Berrettini became the first Italian man ever to reach the Australian Open final four going 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 3-6, 6-2 in another titanic Tuesday tussle.

“It's gonna be a great opportunity again for me,” stated the 25-year-old about the prospect of facing Nadal again.

“I watch him so many times in this tournament and other tournaments, cheering for him, and playing with him in Rod Laver in semi-finals is something that I dreamed about when I was a kid.

‘So I said this, but now I really want to win this match. I know I can do it. It's gonna be a really tough one. But I'm in the semis in a slam for the third time, so it means that this is my level and I want to get further.”

Barty brings her best

There are some serious Roland-Garros vibes at Melbourne Park.

2019 champion Ash Barty won her maiden major in Paris with victories over American trio Amanda Anisimova, Jessica Pegula and Madison Keys. Two down one to go? (She’s also wearing black and white like in Paris three years ago!)

The world No.1 dismantled the firepower of Pegula 6-2, 6-0 on Rod Laver Arena to play “the best I’ve played this year.”

The Australian booked a second semi-final at her home Slam having lost just 17 games in five matches.

“I'm just having fun trying to problem solve out on the court, and each and every opponent has been different, presented me with a different challenge and forced me to use another tool in my toolbox,” reflected the 25-year-old, 2-1 up in her duels with Keys.

“Maddie is an exceptional athlete, she has a great serve, great first strike off the return and off her first ball after her serve. A lot of the time it's about trying to put her in an uncomfortable position, try and get her off-balance, because if she controls the centre of the court the match is on her racket.

“Now we're in with a chance to go out there and play a semi-final at home, couldn't be more pumped and really, really excited.”

“Measured” Madison marches on

By her top-drawer standards and achievements, 2021 was a disaster on court for Madison Keys.

The American, ranked No.87 before taking the Adelaide trophy earlier this month, only won 11 matches last season, a total she has already equalled in 2022 on Tuesday.

Keys returned to the semi-finals at Melbourne Park for the first time since 2015, posting 6-3 6-2 over in form Roland-Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova.

“I will say it's been kind of nice to be the underdog for the first time in a long time,” said the 26-year-old ahead of taking on the top seed.

“It's just not even in my head about winning and losing. It's really just going out, competing, trying to do what the game plan is. If that's not working going to Plan B. The rest is kind of not even getting into my brain.”

Monfils will be back

What a stint world No.20 Monfils has had Down Under. The Adelaide champion was disappointed but incredibly defiant following his epic clash with Berrettini.

“I keep learning from that, but I feel it's been always tough for me. I'm not losing the faith. I won't win 20, but one time, just one time I need,” maintained Monfils regarding his major chances.

“I'm working for this. I still believe I can do it. It's hard, it's been 20 years that I'm not doing the good thing, but who knows? This year it might click.”

Gaël Monfils / Quart de finale Open d'Australie 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT