MELBOURNE • Rafael Nadal stayed on course to become the third man to win all four Grand Slams twice and the first to do so in the Open era after trouncing unseeded Frances Tiafoe 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in their quarter-final clash yesterday.
The 21-year-old American had announced his arrival at the Australian Open by beating South Africa's Kevin Anderson and Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, but he was no match for the Spanish great.
Despite entering the tournament with injury doubts hanging over his head after not playing on the ATP Tour since pulling out of his US Open semi-final in September last year, the world No. 2 has been at the peak of his powers so far.
But post-game, a delighted Nadal, who has yet to drop a set, felt that he was "lucky to be where I am" after having "some trouble at this event all my career".
The 32-year-old will take on another young gun in Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, 20, in the last four tomorrow. He revealed reaching "the semi-final without playing for a while" meant "everything to me".
There will also be a new women's world No. 1 after Czech Petra Kvitova ended the hopes of the host nation by thrashing Ashleigh Barty 6-1, 6-4 to reach her first Grand Slam semi-final in five years.
Romania's Simona Halep had held the ranking for 48 consecutive weeks, but will be dislodged from the summit following Kvitova's win. Depending on the progress of compatriot Karolina Pliskova, who takes on Serena Williams in the last eight today, and Japan's Naomi Osaka and Ukrainian Elina Svitolina, who also meet in the quarter-finals, Kvitova is in contention to become the top women's player when the rankings are updated after the tournament.
But the 28-year-old, who has not lost a set at Melbourne Park, claimed she "did not really care" about the four-way scramble as her sole focus was on lifting her third Slam and her first since 2014.
The two-time Wimbledon champion, who will face unseeded American sensation Danielle Collins tomorrow for a place in the final, was emotional in her on-court interview at the Rod Laver Arena.
Recalling her struggle to regain her place among the sport's elite following an attack by a knife-wielding home intruder in December 2016 that put her career in doubt, Kvitova said it "felt great" as she "did not imagine to be back at this great stadium with the best".
She added: "Yeah, it just took me a bit to the tears, but it was happy tears. I always wanted to come back and play on the highest level... I'm calling it my second career."
Collins also admitted to sharing similar self-doubts as her last-four opponent, telling reporters that having "gone a different route", she "wasn't sure if I could make it playing tennis".
After beating Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 to continue her giant-killing run, the 25-year-old Australian Open debutante joked "it's a little bit new to me" but said being a late bloomer made her "hungrier in some ways".
She added: "This time last year, I was playing a challenger in Newport Beach. I'm really embracing it.
"Not being a child prodigy certainly humbled me, made me, in a way, work harder for things."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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