The madness of this year's Australian Open continues. On Day 7 of the Australian Open, world number one and five-time finalist Andy Murray was ousted by Mischa Zverev in four sets. The six-time champion Novak Djokovic fell by the wayside on Thursday to Denis Istomin. Those results would have left everyone remaining in the draw having some confidence to win the title.
But now, 2009 Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal has emerged as one of the favourites to regain the title in Melbourne. However, four-time champion Roger Federer and 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka are still in the mix, and they could clash in the semifinals.
Sixth seed Gael Monfils will be hoping to halt Nadal's progress by reaching the quarterfinals in Melbourne for the second consecutive year. The charismatic Frenchman had a positive 2016 campaign by reaching the final at the Monte Carlo Masters losing to Nadal, and he won his first ATP 500 level title in Washington. Furthermore, Monfils also reached the semifinals at the US Open losing to Novak Djokovic in four sets, a match he could have won if he took his chances.
Nadal survived an almighty scare against Mischa Zverev's brother Alexander in the third round, recovering from a set and two sets to one down to oust the young German in five sets. Since the top two seeds are out of the tournament, all the players remaining in the draw will fancy their chances on going deep in Melbourne.
How they got here
The Spaniard began his quest for his 15th Grand Slam singles title against Florian Mayer, and the German was victorious in their previous hard meeting. However, Nadal would flip the script, and defeated the former top 20 player, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 to reach the second round in Melbourne. In the following round, the 2009 champion was up against 2006 finalist Marcos Baghdatis. There was no drama for Nadal in this contest as it was a professional straightforward, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 victory over a potentially tricky opponent. The former world number one was almost set for another early exit at the Australian Open but he overcame 24th seed Alexander Zverev in a five-set thriller, 4-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-2 to reach the fourth round in Melbourne for the tenth time in his career.
Monfils has dropped a solitary set en route to the fourth round in Melbourne. His mini-section of the draw wasn't easy either. The sixth seed defeated left-handed Czech Jiri Vesely, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 in the first round, and he followed this up with a victory over former world number 13 and 2011 quarterfinalist Alexandr Dolgopolov in four sets, 6-3, 6-4, 1-6, 6-0. In the third round, Monfils breezed past 32nd seed Philipp Kohlschreiber, 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-4 advancing to the fourth round Down Under for just the second time in his career.
Nadal and Monfils have met on 14 occasions, and the former world number one has dominated their rivalry leading 12-2 overall. Nadal leads 5-0 on clay, 1-0 on grass, and 6-2 on hard courts.
The Spaniard won their first three meetings in straight sets in the first round of the Monte Carlo Masters in 2005, semifinals of the Rome Masters in 2006 and in the round of 16 stage in the Paris Masters in 2008. Monfils would register his victory over Nadal in their fourth meeting in the quarterfinals in Doha in 2009, 6-4, 6-4. The 2009 champion would go on to win their next five consecutive meetings, beginning with straight sets in the semifinals of Rotterdam, and the fourth round of the US Open in 2009, coming back from a set down to win in four. Nadal's next three victories would be in the quarterfinals in Madrid and Tokyo in 2010, and in Barcelona in 2011 in straight sets.
Monfils would record his next victory over Nadal in the semifinals of Doha in 2012, and two years later they would meet in the Middle East, once more with Nadal gaining his revenge in the final in three sets. The Spaniard thrashed Monfils in their third round meeting at the Australian Open in 2014, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, en route to reaching his third Slam final in Melbourne.
The 14-time Slam champion would defeat Monfils in their solitary grass court meeting in the semifinals in Stuttgart in 2015 with Nadal prevailing in straight sets. The ninth seed would defeat Monfils for the 12th time in their most recent meeting in the final of the Monte Carlo Masters last year, which was a very close encounter. Unfortunately, Monfils ran out of steam in the final set and the Spaniard capitalised on that, running out the winner, 7-5, 5-7, 6-0.
Who reaches the quarterfinals?
Both players are no strangers to each other's game and the pair of 30-year-olds will look at this match as a chance to get through the draw. Nadal will need to serve well in this contest and keep focused throughout this match as Monfils has the power in his game to overpower him. However, the Frenchman has struggled against the 14-time Grand Slam champion over the years. The ninth seed's forehand has been firing on all cylinders this week, and his performances have been vintage this week.
Both players move exceptionally well around the court, and the Frenchman can attack and defend well, sliding on hard courts, and he will need to get some cheap points on his serve by serving aces or a service winner as if they engage in long baseline rallies, the Spaniard is favourite to come out on top.
Nadal will be hoping to win the Australian Open again as he will become the first man since Rod Laver to win every Grand Slam singles title at least twice. His rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic just need to win another title at Roland Garros to complete this amazing feat.
The 14-time Slam champion will not take this match for granted as he will have seen his colleagues Djokovic and Murray fall by the wayside. This will also be a good chance for Nadal to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal since the French Open two years ago.
Should Nadal defeat Monfils he will reach his ninth Australian Open quarterfinal in Melbourne and 31st Grand Slam quarterfinal in the process. The sixth seed will be looking for his second consecutive Australian Open quarterfinal and ninth Grand Slam quarterfinal in his career.
This will be the final match scheduled in the Rod Laver Arena, following the evening women's fourth round match between fifth seed Karolina Pliskova and 22nd seed Daria Gavrilova. The winner of this mouthwatering men's singles fourth round match will play third seed Milos Raonic or Nadal's compatriot, the 13th seed Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarterfinals.
Prediction: Nadal in four sets