Rafael Nadal celebrates after winning the fourth round match against Gael Monfils
Rafael Nadal celebrates after winning the fourth round match against Gael Monfils FILIP SINGER

Nadal step closer to dream Federer clash

TENNIS: The two grand warriors of modern tennis continue to plot their way through the Australian Open minefield.

Roger Federer saw off fifth seed Kei Nishikori in five sets on Sunday night and his long-time great rival and fellow former No.1 Rafael Nadal joined him in the quarter-finals.

They could meet in a dream decider that would be their ninth bout for a grand slam title, the first way back in 2006 at the French Open.

Nadal, 30, won his lone Australian Open title in 2009 at Federer's expense and six of those finals overall.

Spain's world No.9 was in beast mode for parts of Monday night, but had to overcome a mid-match hiccup to eliminate sixth-seeded French entertainer Gael Monfils 6-3 6-3 4-6 6-4 in 2hr 56min.

Monfils had a fifth set in sight when he charged 4-2 up in the fourth, and was 30-0 on serve two games later before crumbling in a flurry of all-too-familiar waywardness.

Nadal needed no further invitation and celebrated with gusto as he charged over the top of the Frenchman to set up a last-eight showdown with third seed Milos Raonic.

"Gael is a special player and is able to play unbelievable shots and is one of the more charismatic players on tour - it's a pleasure to see him in top positions of the rankings," Nadal said.

"I'm very happy to be in the quarter-finals again in a grand slam after a couple of years of not being there.

"It is very special for me, especially here in Australia. I feel a little bit like home, (because) the crowd is always supporting me like crazy."


epa05744200 Rafael Nadal of Spain serves a ball against Gael Monfils of France in their Men's Singles match at the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 23 January 2017.  EPA/LYNN BO BO
Rafael Nadal serves a ball against Gael Monfils of France in their match at the Australian Open LYNN BO BO

The Raonic contest is a rematch from only weeks ago in Brisbane, where the big-serving Canadian prevailed in three sets.

"He's the third player in the world and beat me a couple of weeks ago in Brisbane and it was a tough game," Nadal said.

"He's a top player with an amazing serve. I need to be very focused with my serve and wait for opportunities and play aggressive on returns to have any chance."

Nadal, not long removed from a left wrist problem that ruined his 2016 season, said on tournament eve he still considered himself a grand slam force - and would stop once he no longer did.

The 30-year-old did not give up a set in his first two victories before winning a five-set slugfest with potentially the sport's next great player, German teenager Alexander Zverev.

Monfils flirted with challenging Nadal in the first two sets, but was generally hanging on for dear life. That all changed in the third set.

He pounced on some rare Nadal frailty to take up the running for the first time, then survived triple break point - and a fourth soon after - to force a fourth set.

Monfils swatted 52 winners to Nadal's more-modest 21, but his 64 unforced errors, including 10 double faults, also dwarfed the winner's 27 in a more telling statistic.