MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Rafael Nadal’s lack of match fitness from nearly six months of inactivity finally caught up with the 14-time Grand Slam singles champion at the Australian Open on Tuesday.
Nadal was never much of a factor in his quarterfinal match against seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych, losing 6-2, 6-0, 7-6 (5) after failing to convert any of his four break-point chances.
The third-seeded Nadal said before the tournament began that his lack of fitness due to injuries and illness in the last half of 2014 made him unlikely to win more than a few rounds at Melbourne Park.
Nadal saved two match points in the 12th game of the final set, sending it to a tiebreaker. But Berdych raced out to a 5-2 lead in the decider and finally ended the match on his fourth match point when Nadal netted a return of serve.
“As I said when I got here, it is always tough to come back from injuries,” Nadal said. “I am feeling OK, but it was not my day. Quarterfinals here is not bad for me.”
Coming into the Australian Open, Nadal had played only eight matches since last June because of a right wrist injury and appendix surgery in November. He had also won 17 matches in a row against Berdych.
“I was ready for everything and I think that was the difference,” Berdych said. “I started pretty well, but when you’re playing Rafa you have to keep going to the last point.”
Berdych will play the winner of the night quarterfinal between Andy Murray and local hope Nick Kyrgios.
Earlier on Rod Laver Arena, Maria Sharapova moved closer to another Australian title, defeating 20-year-old Eugenie Bouchard 6-3, 6-2 in the quarterfinals.
Sharapova made all the big points look easy against Bouchard and advance to a semifinal against Ekaterina Makarova, who earlier beat third-seeded Simona Halep 6-4, 6-0.
“I felt pretty good from the start, didn’t feel I had too many letdowns,” Sharapova said, adding that her close call in the second round – facing two match points against a qualifier – sharpened her focus for the rest of the tournament.
“When you are down and out in the second match, I don’t want to face that call with my father too many times during a tournament,” she said.
The last time Sharapova and Bouchard met – in the semifinals at the French Open last year – Bouchard won the first set before Sharapova came back to take the next two. The Russian then won the title at Roland Garros.
This time, Bouchard, who made the finals of Wimbledon and two other Grand Slam semis last year, didn’t come close to taking a set, looking flat from the outset while being broken in her opening service game. The Genie Army, a group of young Australian men who croon about the Canadian player, was left to sing another day.
Bouchard, who has four straight to Sharapova, had 30 unforced errors and had her service broken four times.
“She didn’t give me many chances, and against the great players you have to take any chances you can get,” Bouchard said. “If you don’t have time, you have to go for riskier shots, and I made a few too many unforced errors because I was under pressure.”
Sharapova, the 2008 Australian Open champion and a two-time finalist, has a 5-0 record against Makarova, including wins in the quarterfinals here in 2012 and 2013. In four of those losses, Makarova failed to win a set.
It will be Makarova’s second consecutive Grand Slam semifinal. She made her first major semi at last year’s U.S. Open, losing to Serena Williams.
“I’m so comfortable here, it’s all the atmosphere and maybe memories from New York that I bring here,” said Makarova.
The 26-year-old Makarova has had her best Grand Slam results at Melbourne Park, advancing to the fourth round twice as well as those quarterfinal losses to Sharapova. Last year, she lost to eventual champion Li Na in the fourth round.
Halep said her nerves got to her.
“I was just I was a little bit stressed, I don’t know why,” the 23-year-old Halep said. “I had experience from last year to play quarterfinals, so it doesn’t mean that I felt pressure. I just I didn’t feel the game, the ball. It was a very bad day for me.”
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