Rafa Nadal battled to a straight sets victory over Milos Raonic
He is through to the semi-finals of the Australian Open – his first grand slam semi-final since the French Open of 2014 – thanks to a muscular, dogged 6-4, 7-6, 6-4 win over Milos Raonic.
There were times when Nadal, the world No.9, was inspired, there were times when he was cussed and there were times when he was scrapping for his life but, after two hours and 44 minutes here, he was celebrating like a man who knew he was on his way back.
“It’s good news,” he said happily. “Especially winning against difficult players: [Gael] Monfils quarter-finals, [Alexander] Zverev round of 16, now Raonic. All of them are top players. So that’s very important for me because that means that I’m competitive and playing well.
“So I’m just excited about being back in final rounds of the most important events. I’m here to try to win this. It’s always difficult but I fought and I worked hard to try to make that happen.”
Rafa Nadal moved into the Australian Open semi-finals and looks in great shape
In 2014, Nadal won his ninth title at Roland Garros and all seemed well with his world. But after losing in the fourth round at Wimbledon a few weeks later, he missed the next three months with a left wrist injury. He came back in the autumn but then was felled by a grumbling appendix.
The following year he was physically fit but mentally shot to pieces. Unhappy on court and not enjoying training or practice, he cut a sorry figure on the tour.
Then, last year, he started the season feeling mentally and physically fresher but he simply was not playing that well. As soon as his form began to return, he injured his right wrist and had to pull out of the French Open in the third round. He came back for the Olympics but two months later called an early end to the season as his wrist stubbornly refused to heal.
All the while the vultures circled as the pundits predicted that his career was coming to an end. Even Nadal had no idea whether he could ever get back to anything like his best.
“Even when I was winning a lot I had doubts,” he said, “so you can imagine I had a lot more when I’m not winning and have injuries. I had a great career but a lot of tough moments, so that makes me enjoy even more the good moments I have.
“Tonight, I feel very happy for my attitude and for the tennis too. I hit some great passing shots. That’s good news for me. When I make that happen, it’s because I’m playing well.”
The fight is back, the fire is back and, round by round, the belief is coming back. Now only Grigor Dimitrov, the world No.15, stands between him and a place in the final – and he has only lost once to the Bulgarian in eight meetings and that was when his wrist was giving out last autumn.
Dimitrov began the year by winning the Brisbane title and yesterday dismissed a lacklustre David Goffin from Belgium 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.
“He’s a player that has an unbelievable talent, unbelievable potential,” said Nadal. “He started the season playing unbelievable. It’s going to be a very tough match for me. I hope for him too.”