Rafael Nadal reached his first Grand Slam quarter-final for over a year after defeating the flamboyant Frenchman Gael Monfils in four sets at the Australian Open.
The Spaniard, who hasn’t advanced to the last eight of a major since the French Open back in 2015, has been hampered by injuries over past 24 months however he has looked razor sharp at the first major of the year here in Melbourne.
For two sets, he overpowered Monfils, ripping his bustling forehand and dominating proceedings from the back of the court.
It wasn’t until the middle of the third set before the Frenchman finally threatened to stage a comeback, eventually going down 6-3 6-3 4-6 6-4 in two hours and 55 minutes.
Nadal will meet third seed Milos Raonic in the last eight after the Canadian defeated Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut 7-6 (8-6) 3-6 6-4 6-1.
The winner of that match will be the favourite against either David Goffin or Grigor Dimitrov, who meet in the other quarter-final in the bottom half of the draw.
One-sided at the start
Nadal must have fancied his chances against Monfils, after winning 12 out of 14 matches against the Frenchman.
Their last meeting in a major was in Melbourne in 2014 when Nadal triumphed for the loss of just six games.
Since then Monfils has climbed to a career high ranking of six in the world, and the Frenchman was the higher seed going into this encounter. However, that made little difference in the early exchanges.
Nadal broke his opponent in the second game of the match, after Monfils conceded his serve with a double fault. Before long the Spaniard had stormed into a 3-0 lead.
Monfils has always been regarded as one of the best athletes in the game, however his temperament and attitude has often been questioned.
Nadal looking back to his best
In the opening set he played most of his tennis strides behind the baseline, as Nadal dominated with his thundering groundstrokes.
Usually it’s the Spaniard’s forehand which attracts all the attention, but here his backhand - especially down the line - was causing just as much damage.
A careless game from Monfils saw him lose serve again in the opening game of the second set, snatching a backhand wide at 15-40.
Monfils finally broke the Nadal serve to draw level at 3-3, however the Frenchman’s concentration wavered again and he lost his own serve to 0 in the following game.
Nadal won 76 per cent of the points behind his first serve in the opening two sets and its clearly an area of his game that he has worked hard on during the off-season.
Too little too late for Monfils
Even so, Monfils capitalised on some loose forehands from Nadal at 4-4 in the third, which duly allowed the Frenchman to serve for the set.
After saving three break points from 0-40 in the following game, Monfils finally halved the deficit to make it two sets to one, winning the set with a vicious forehand.
The level of tennis was at its highest at the start of the fourth set, as Nadal came out all guns blazing.
Monfils saved two break points in the fourth game and after hanging on he abruptly turned the tables to claim a 4-2 lead.
Yet, he couldn’t keep up as Nadal came roaring back, winning the last four games to seal the victory.