MELBOURNE • Rafael Nadal retired for just the second time in 264 Grand Slam matches, headlining a raft of shocks at the Australian Open on a day that saw unseeded Kyle Edmund and Elise Mertens make the semi-finals.
World No. 1 Nadal could not continue against Marin Cilic yesterday after an upper right leg problem began troubling him in the fourth set on Rod Laver Arena. He called for the physio at 1-4 and again at the changeover at two sets apiece.
The 31-year-old Spaniard winced in pain and limped to a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 2-6, 0-2 exit, overshadowing a majestic performance from Cilic.
The only other time that the 16-time Major champion retired at a Grand Slam was also at Melbourne Park, during the 2010 quarter-final against Andy Murray.
"I am a positive person, but today is an opportunity lost to be in the semi-finals of a Grand Slam and fight for an important title for me," said Nadal.
Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion, struck 83 winners to set up a clash with 49th-ranked Briton Kyle Edmund, who stunned third seed Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
"It was an unbelievable performance from both of us," said sixth seed Cilic, after the 3hr 47min battle. "It is really unfortunate for Rafa to finish this way."
Cilic, whose first Australian Open semi-final came eight years ago when he lost to Murray, felt the fourth set was key to his victory.
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Mischa Zverev yesterday became the first player to be heavily fined for retiring from his first-round match under new rules aimed at limiting early injury withdrawals. The German, seeded 32, withdrew during the second set against South Korea's Chung Hyeon last week and has been fined US$45,000 (S$59,400) for what is termed "a poor first-round performance".
MERTENS' STAR FAN
Kim, thanks for watching and don't get too stressed.
ELISE MERTENS, world No. 37, on retired tennis star Kim Clijsters following her match in the middle of the night back home. Mertens is the first Belgian to make the semi-finals since Clijsters in 2012.
He had to regroup after losing a third-set tie-breaker despite leading 3-2 with two serves to come.
"After that, I felt I made a good mental decision that I want to lift up a little bit with my game just with intensity," said the Croat.
"From that moment, end of the third until end of the match, I was hitting the ball unbelievably well."
Edmund can strike a ball too, particularly with his forehand. He has 127 forehand winners at this Australian Open - more than any other player. He kept world No. 3 Dimitrov under pressure with that weapon and his serve.
The Bulgarian, in contrast, had seven double faults and was broken five times.
"I am loving it right now, just the way I'm playing. I'm 23 years old, my first Grand Slam semi-final. First time I played on one of the biggest courts in the world," Edmund said after sealing his first win over a top-five player in 2hr 49min.
"To beat a quality of a player like Grigor, it's a great feeling."
World No. 37 Mertens is unbeaten in 10 matches after winning in Hobart this month. She was too strong for world No. 4 Elina Svitolina, storming into the semis on her Australian Open debut with a 6-4, 6-0 win.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
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