By JOHN PYE
AP Sports Writer
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — After fending off four set points and being unable to convert the first six of his own, Rafael Nadal finally clinched a 28-minute and 40-second tiebreaker to get himself on track to secure a spot in the Australian Open quarterfinals for the 14th time.
After a 7-6 (14), 6-2, 6-2 fourth-round victory over fellow left-hander Adrian Mannarino on Sunday, Nadal is now potentially just three wins away from a men’s record 21st Grand Slam singles title.
The 35-year-old Spaniard moved to equal-second with John Newcombe on the all-time list for most quarterfinals in Australia. Roger Federer tops that list with 15.
It’s also his 45th time into the last eight at a Grand Slam tournament, which is third on the all-time behind Federer (58) and Novak Djokovic (51).
He shares the men’s record 20 major titles with Federer and Djokovic. But he’s the only one of the trio playing in this tournament.
Mannarino, who didn’t finish his third-round win until after 2 a.m. on Saturday and appeared to be hampered at times by an abdominal or upper leg injury, threw everything at Nadal in the opening set at Rod Laver Arena, where temperatures approached 33 Celsius.
“First set (was) very, very emotional,” Nadal said. “Anything could happen there. I was a little bit lucky at the end. I had chances, he had a lot of chances too.”
“I’m very happy I survived that first set, without a doubt,” he added. “That crazy first set was so important.”
The first set lasted 85 minutes, including the ‘breaker, but after getting early breaks in the second and third sets the match was over in 2 hours, 40 minutes.
Next up for Nadal will be either No. 3 Alexander Zverev or No. 14 Denis Shapovalov, who were playing on Margaret Court Arena around the same time.
In the women’s draw, French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova breezed to a 6-2, 6-2 win over two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka to reach the quarterfinals for the third time in four Grand Slam events.
The fourth-seeded Krejcikova will next play Madison Keys, who reached the semifinals in Australia in 2015 and was runner-up at the 2017 U.S. Open.
Keys overpowered eighth-seeded Paula Badosa 6-3, 6-1 in the first of the fourth-round matches on Day 7 at Rod Laver Arena.
The 26-year-old American, who beat 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in the first round, hit 26 winners and made only 18 unforced errors against Badosa to continue her unbeaten start to 2022. She claimed her sixth career title at a tune-up tournament in Adelaide last week.
Krejcikova went into her match against Azarenka believing the former 32-year-old, former No. 1-ranked player from Belarus was the favorite to win.
But the 2012 and 2013 champion made 28 unforced errors and dropped five service games, and it was all over in 85 minutes.
“She’s a champion here. She likes this court. She’s very experienced on this court. I have a lot of respect for her,” Krejcikova said. But, “I was doing everything to get this one, really preparing for a dream like this.
“And yeah, I’m in the quarterfinals.”
In later matches, top-ranked Ash Barty was scheduled to play No. 60-ranked Amanda Anisimova, who saved two match points before upsetting defending champion Naomi Osaka in the third round.
The winner of that match between Barty and Anisimova will play No. 21-seeded Jessica Pegula, who beat fifth-seeded Maria Sakkari 7-6 (0), 6-3 on Margaret Court Arena.
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