A couple of uncharacteristically sloppy overheads and a framed backhand in a third-set tie-breaker began Nadal’s undoing. And, his bid for a men’s-record 21st major championship eventually ended in the Australian Open quarter-finals on Wednesday with 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (4), 4-6, 5-7 loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Spaniard Nadal went ahead rather easily, winning 27 consecutive points on his serve in one stretch and running his streak of consecutive sets won at major tournaments to 35. But, Tsitsipas of Greece never wavered and that surprisingly poor tie-breaker by the 34-year-old Nadal helped begin the epic comeback.
The only other occasion in which Nadal went from a two-set edge to a defeat in a Slam came at the 2015 US Open against Fabio Fognini. So now, instead of Nadal attempting to continue his pursuit of Federer, it will be 22-year-old Tsitsipas who will meet Russian Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals on Friday.
Daniil defeated compatriot Andrey Rublev 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 in the last-8 round. Nadal came into this year’s first major with doubts about his back, citing that as his reason for pulling out of the ATP Cup that preceded the Australian Open and saying the problem prevented him from practising properly. But he hadn’t ceded a set at Melbourne Park through four matches.
It looked like it could be a repeat of the 2019 semi-final in Australia, when Nadal overwhelmed Tsitsipas and allowed him to win just six games. But this time, Tsitsipas came in after three full days off, because the man he was supposed to face in the fourth round, No.9 Matteo Berrettini, withdrew with an abdominal injury.
That and a 12-year age difference might have contributed to Tsitsipas being fresher as they played beyond four hours. Tsitsipas moved out front at 6-5 in the fifth set by breaking at love as Nadal flubbed a series of shots. He then served out the victory by converting his third match point with a backhand winner.
In the women’s singles quarter-finals, Jennifer Brady of the USA defeated compatriot Jessica Pegula 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 while Karolina Muchova (Czech Republic) stunned top seed and local player Ashleigh Barty 1-6, 6-3, 6-2.