The “Rafa Slam” is still alive after Rafael Nadal beat Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 at the Australian Open yesterday to maintain his chance of owning all four Grand Slam trophies at once.
That’s a feat that hasn’t been achieved since Rod Laver won four majors in 1969.
Playing on Melbourne Park’s center court that is named after the Australian legend, Nadal advanced to a quarter-final against Spain’s David Ferrer as he attempts to add to the Grand Slam titles he won last year at the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.
A favorite for the women’s title, US Open champion Kim Clijsters also advanced to the quarter-finals yesterday with a 7-6 (7/3), 6-2 win over Ekaterina Makarova of Russia.
Nadal hasn’t dropped a set through four rounds at Melbourne Park, despite carrying the effects of a virus he picked up two weeks ago in Qatar.
In Nadal’s previous match, he sweated profusely, saying he was still feeling the effects of the virus. Yesterday, thanks to cooler temperatures in Melbourne and his slow recovery, the problem had abated.
“I’m not sweating that much tonight,” Nadal said. “The two other days I was sweating like crazy and I felt very tired when I played the match. Today was the first day I felt perfect physically.”
A capacity crowd of 15,000 that included American country music star Kenny Rogers saw Nadal struggle at times on his serve.
The fourth game went to deuce four times, but Nadal finally prevailed on his service with a forehand smash at the net, followed shortly by his patented “Vamos” as he walked to the back of the court.
In the next game, he set up one of four break points with an amazing pick up of a Cilic drop-shot at the net, sending it across the court to the side-line for a winner. He converted for 4-1 and, after serving a double fault on his first set point, Nadal took the opening set when Cilic netted a backhand.
Nadal went ahead 4-3 on a service break in the second set, then clinched it when Cilic, who beat John Isner of the US in five tough sets on Saturday, hit a forehand long. He advanced when Cilic double-faulted on match point.
Earlier, fifth-seeded Andy Murray also advanced to the quarter-finals, setting up a possible semi-final with Nadal.
“I don’t want to get carried away,” Murray said after his 6-3, 6-1, 6-1 win over Jurgen Melzer of Austria. “I’ve never won one of these things before.”
The win put Murray closer to a second straight appearance in the final at Melbourne Park, where he lost to Roger Federer last year after beating Nadal in the quarter-finals.
He also came close to ending a woeful British streak — no male winner of a Grand Slam since Fred Perry in 1936 — at the 2008 US Open, where he also lost in the final to Federer.
Before Murray gets a potential crack at Nadal, he’ll face an unexpected quarter-final rival after 22-year-old Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov had an upset 1-6, 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 win over fourth-seeded Robin Soderling.
No. 7 David Ferrer set up a quarter-final match against fellow Spaniard Nadal with his 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 win over 20-year-old Canadian qualifier Milos Raonic, who had upset No. 10 Mikhail Youzhny in the third round.
In the late women’s match, Clijsters held two set points in the 12th game of the opening set on Makarova’s service, which the Russian fended off — Clijsters converted just one of 10 break-point chances in the set.