Nadal closes on Slam record, Barty raises home hopes

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MELBOURNE: Rafael Nadal outclassed Fabio Fognini to close in on the all-time Grand Slam titles record on Monday as Ashleigh Barty ramped up hopes of becoming the Australian Open’s first home winner in 43 years.

Nadal said his lower-back stiffness was continuing to improve after his 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 against the flamboyant Italian to reach his 13th Australian Open quarter-final.

The Spanish second seed, who is chasing a record 21st Grand Slam title, held steady against the fierce hitting of Fognini and counter-punched brilliantly.

Nadal is now into his 43rd Grand Slam quarter-final, staying on course for a title match with eight-time winner Novak Djokovic who battled through an abdominal injury to reach the last eight on Sunday.

“I’m happy to be in the quarter-finals today — that means a lot to me, it’s positive stuff,” said Nadal, who is level with Roger Federer on 20 Grand Slam men’s singles titles.

Nadal set up a quarter-final meeting with Greek fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who advanced to the last eight after ninth seed Matteo Berrettini withdrew due to an abdominal strain.

Daniil Medvedev brushed aside Mackenzie McDonald 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 to extend his winning streak to 18 matches and set up an all-Russian quarter-final with Andrey Rublev, who was gifted a place in the last eight after Norway’s Casper Ruud retired injured.

Medvedev and Rublev join Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev in the quarter-finals, making it the first time in the Open era that three Russian men have reached the quarter-finals in the same Grand Slam.

The Melbourne tournament remained fan-free for a third day on Monday during a five-day lockdown in Victoria state to curb a coronavirus outbreak.

As the action continued in front of empty stands, top-ranked Barty beat big-hitting American Shelby Rogers in impressive fashion to reach the last eight.

Barty won 6-3, 6-4 to go into the quarter-finals without dropping a set as she bids to become the first Australian champion since Chris O’Neil in 1978.

“I love playing at home and sharing this with my friends and family,” said Barty, who hit 21 winners.

The former French Open champion next plays Karolina Muchova, who came through two tight sets to beat Belgium’s Elise Mertens 7-6 (7-5), 7-5.

Jessica Pegula continued her dream run in Melbourne with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win over Ukrainian fifth seed Elina Svitolina to set up an all-American quarter-final against Jennifer Brady, who beat Croatia’s Donna Vekic 6-1, 7-5.

Brady and Pegula gave the US three women’s quarter-finalists at Melbourne Park, joining 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, who advanced a day earlier.