Rafael Nadal’s drive towards a second Australian Open title came to a shuddering injury-induced halt Wednesday on a day of upsets that saw unseeded Kyle Edmund and Elise Mertens make the semi-finals.
The world number one retired against Marin Cilic after an upper right leg problem began troubling him the fourth set on Rod Laver Arena, with the Spaniard wincing in pain and limping as he struggled to continue.
His 3-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 6-2, 2-0 exit set up a last-four clash for the former US Open champion against Britain’s Edmund, who stunned third seed Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Mertens, who is yet to drop a set, was equally convincing in blasting past world number four Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-0 to become the first Belgian to make the semis since Kim Clijsters in 2012.
She will play second seeded Dane Caroline Wozniacki or veteran Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro for a place in Saturday’s final.
Little separated Nadal and big-hitting Cilic until the injury struck, as they traded ferocious groundstrokes in an intense battle.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 23, 2018
But the Spaniard, who was beaten in last year’s final by Roger Federer, called the physio at 1-4 in the fourth set and again at the changeover when two sets apiece and the writing was on the wall.
“It was an unbelievable performance from both us,” said Croat Cilic, the sixth seed. “It is really unfortunate for Rafa to finish this way.”
Nadal’s retirement follows the departure on Monday of Novak Djokovic, with his immediate playing future uncertain after an elbow injury flared. He also appeared to have a hip problem.
There were no such troubles for Edmund against Dimitrov, as he became only the fourth British man to reach the Australian Open semi-finals in the post-1968 Open Era.
“It’s an amazing feeling. I’m very happy,” said the overwhelmed 23-year-old, ranked 49.
“It was a hard match and I’m really trying to enjoy the moment. It was my first match on Rod Laver Arena and it’s very special.”
He is the only British man in the draw after Andy Murray’s injury withdrawal before the tournament, raising the prospect that it will be him, rather than the Scot, who breaks through to win in Australia.
Murray has been a five-time finalist, but lost them all.
Provided by AFP Sport
The Bulgarian world No.3 was ambushed 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 by the 49th-ranked Edmund and again misses out in his 30th Grand Slam tournament.
The 26-year-old lost to Rafael Nadal over five sets in last year’s semi-final and has yet to go beyond the last four at a Grand Slam.
“It’s hard to hide the disappointment. It’s how I feel. It hurts and so it should,” Dimitrov told his post-match media conference.
“I need to give myself a couple of days just to relax a little bit and reassess the whole Australian trip.
KING KYLE!! 👑🇬🇧@kyle8edmund becomes the first British man not named @andy_murray to reach the #AusOpen semifinals since 1977. He defeats No.3 Grigor #Dimitrov 6-4 3-6 6-3 6-4. pic.twitter.com/Xgoudn5snn
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 23, 2018
“I need to be smart the way I’m practising now, not to overdo it again, but in the same time make sure I find my rhythm again, my game itself, the elements when I play.
“That requires quite a bit of work, but I’m certain I’m going to be able to do it and hopefully produce better tennis as the year progresses.”
Dimitrov again struggled on serve, giving up seven double faults and being broken five times. Overall he had 43 double-faults in five matches at the tournament.
“Definitely that’s one of the things I’ve struggled with a lot in the past week,” he said.
“That’s one thing I know if I can turn around, make sure I’m a bit more consistent.
“I felt like some of the matches I was serving pretty much all the matches over 50 percent.
“It’s just the winning percentage (42 percent) on the second serve was pretty low, made quite a bit of double-faults. I can only blame myself on that.”
Dimitrov said despite his early exit from the year’s opening Grand Slam he had nothing to prove.
“In a way, I have nothing to prove to anyone anymore. I’m playing tennis for myself. I’ve pretty much done, in a way, what everybody thought I would do,” he said.
“To me, that’s not about it right now. It’s really about stepping up my own game, my own belief, my own way of playing.
“For sure once you get to the top, everything becomes more narrow. You have a bigger target on your back. Everybody wants to beat you. So, yeah, it gets harder.”
* Provided by AFP
Kyle Edmund’s march towards the Australian Open semi-finals this fortnight has been nothing short of remarkable.
The world No. 49 was 0-14 against top-10 opposition prior to these two weeks and had made it past the second round at a Grand Slam just three times before in 13 main draw appearances at the majors.
Now, the 23-year-old South African-born Brit has claimed the biggest win of his career — a four-set success over world No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov, to storm into the last-four at Melbourne Park.
He next faces either Rafael Nadal or Marin Cilic for a dream place in the final.
Edmund’s run to the semi-finals in Melbourne looked like this:
R1 beat Kevin Anderson  6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
R2 beat world No60 Denis Istomin 6-2, 6-2, 6-4
R3 beat world No61 Nikoloz Basilashvili 7-6, 3-6, 4-6, 6-0, 7-5
R4 beat world No76 Andreas Seppi 6-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-3
QF beat Grigor Dimitrov  6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
Here’s a close analysis of the numbers behind Edmund’s historic fortnight Down under…
1 – Edmund is the first British man, other than Andy Murray, to reach the Australian Open semi-finals since John Lloyd in December 1977.
1 – Edmund’s win over third-ranked Dimitrov was his first against a top-five opponent in 12 attempts.
2 – five-set wins for Edmund this fortnight, the first time he’s done so at the same tournament.
5 – second serve aces struck by Edmund so far this tournament.
5 – Edmund has posted five consecutive tour-level match wins for the first time in his career.
6 – Edmund is the sixth British male Grand Slam semi-finalist in the Open Era, joining countrymen Roger Taylor, John Lloyd, Greg Rusedski, Tim Henman and Andy Murray.
14 – hours and 48 minutes, total time spent on court through five matches.
22 – break points saved, out of 33 faces throughout the tournament.
30 – Edmund will crack the top-30 for the first time thanks to making the semis. If reaches the final, he’ll rank in the top-20.
74.6 – per cent, Edmund’s success rate in net points this tournament, won 53 out of 71 net points (20/25 in the match against Dimitrov).
78 – aces fired by Edmund so far this tournament.
184 – km/hr, the average speed of his first serve this Australian Open.
278 – winners coming off the Edmund racquet through five matches this fortnight, averaging 55.6 winners per match. He has hit 199 unforced errors.