Watch: Nadal Survives Schwartzman Test In Melbourne
Rafael Nadal survived a three-hour, 51-minute battle to end the challenge of Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-3 and reach his 10th Australian Open quarter-final on Sunday.
After winning the first set, Nadal established control on three occasions in the second, but was pegged back each time as Schwartzman rallied to level the match in the tie-break. After dropping his first set of the tournament in that tie-break, the World No. 1 re-established control with an improved level on serve to clinch his spot in the last eight of a Grand Slam for the 33rd time.
Nadal, who is now assured of staying at World No. 1 post-tournament, will meet Marin Cilic who navigated his way past Pablo Carreno Busta 6-7(2), 6-3, 7-6(0), 7-6(3). Nadal leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 5-1.
"You can't expect easy matches when you're playing in big tournaments," said Nadal. "And against good players. So, it was a tough match in general terms. I missed opportunities in the second set. That's the truth. Three times a break up in the second. Then, you lose those many chances and you're in trouble. But of course he played well and he played aggressive. He did a lot of things well and I didn't play as aggressive as I did the last couple of days. That's why I was suffering more. Conditions out there were not easy this afternoon. Very humid. But I'm very happy to be through, of course."
The 2009 champion saved four break points and won 75 per cent of points behind his second serve en route to winning the first set, which he secured after breaking his rival in a marathon eighth game before a confident hold to love.
The second set was a constant battle, as Nadal established control on three occasions with breaks of serve but was pegged back each time by stunning tennis from his 5’7” opponent. Schwartzman, looking to reach back-to-back Grand Slam quarter finals, forced a tie-break and stunned the World No. 1, who had not dropped a set in the tournament, to level the match.
The top seed improved his level on serve in the third set to get back on track before securing the only break of the set in the fourth game, where he broke the 24th seed to love. Dropping just three points in his remaining three service games, Nadal confidently moved to two-sets-to-one ahead.
Schwartzman once again came back at Nadal at the start of the fourth set, holding serve before manufacturing four break points on the 16-time Grand Slam champion’s serve. But Nadal eventually fought his way out of danger and pounced on his opponent in the following game to break for a 2-1 lead. Saving further break points at 4-3, Nadal applied the finishing touches in the next game to finally end Schwartzman’s fight, breaking serve on his third match point with a backhand return winner to stay on course in his bid for a second Australian Open title.
"The most important thing for me is after not playing anything before here, I am able to be in the quarter-finals," Nadal added. "I played some great matches. Today a little bit worse in moments, but I resisted very well. I'm very happy. Very proud about the third and fourth set, because the situation was not easy for me, and I was able to hold my serve all the time. Sometimes in tough moments.
"But I played with determination and that's what I am going to need, and I need to serve well. I'm going to need to play with more determination with my forehand in the next match. I am focusing on trying to make it."
Nadal improved to 4-0 against the Argentine, having previously not dropped a set. They had met on the hard courts of Acapulco in 2013, the US Open in 2015 and the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters last year.
"I feel great," Schwartzman said following the match. "I think I did a good job inside the court. I had many, many chances in the start of every set, having a lot of break points and I couldn't win those points. I think Rafa played good points in those moments, playing aggressively. That's why he's one of the best in history.
"After the second set, he also served a little bit better, starting to win a lot of points with the serve. Then in the fourth, I was a little bit tired, trying to win every point and it was not easy against Rafa. I think I did a good job. I had the chances, but Rafa played better than me in the important moments."