MELBOURNE, Australia — In one corner, you had the world No. 1 player. Fast, ferocious and downright frightful. His biceps bulge from his sleeveless shirt.
He owns 75 career titles, including 16 majors.
In the other corner, a 5-foot-7 firecracker who’s won one title in his career. He wears sleeves.
A heavyweight versus a welterweight. So no chance Rafael Nadal, maybe the most daunting player in the history of the game, would struggle against Diego Schwartzman, who, when standing next to his opponent, barely reaches his neck.
If you took their physical stature out of the equation, you might have thought Schwartzman was Nadal for a good amount of their fourth-round clash Sunday at the Australian Open. Schwartzman, a 25-year-old from Argentina, blistered shot after shot and rarely conceded during any point.
Down two match points late in the fourth set, Schwartzman ran down a ball wide into the ad court and struck a backhand down-the-line winner so hard you’d thought the fireworks from Australia Day had gone off five days prematurely. That was his day in a nutshell.
In the end, though, Nadal prevailed 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3 in 3 hours, 51 minutes. Make that a grueling 3 hours, 51 minutes. The win assured Nadal that he will leave Melbourne Park as the world No. 1 player, no matter what he does from here.
As for Schwartzman, he earned a lot of respect from the fans Sunday … and the right to take the sleeves off his shirt.
Sixth-seeded Marin Cilic not only made his way to the quarterfinals with a 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-6 (0), 7-6 (3) victory over No. 10 seed Pablo Carreno Busta, he also notched his 100th Grand Slam match win. Not that he knew anything about reaching the milestone.
“It’s beautiful to hear,” Cilic said. “I had the 300th win of my career at the US Open in 2014, so this is also beautiful one. I hope I’m going to continue and gather three more here.”
A couple of other snippets from Cilic’s victory:
He became the second Croatian man to win 100 major matches in the Open era, alongside his former coach Goran Ivanisevic (110)
It’s the first time he’s reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open since 2010
Bidding to become the first player listed at 6-foot-6 or taller in tennis history to win multiple majors; only Grand Slam championship to date came at the 2014 US Open
We’ve been waiting and waiting and … waiting, but this seems like an ideal time for Caroline Wozniacki to break through and win her first Grand Slam title .
A more aggressive No. 2 seed surged to a 6-3, 6-0 win over Magdalena Rybarikova on Sunday, hitting 25 winners en route to a quarterfinal matchup against Carla Suarez Navarro.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 21, 2018
Suarez Navarro had to work a lot harder than Wozniacki to reach the quarters, prevailing 8-6 in the third set over Annett Kontaveit. Suarez Navarro, No. 39 in the world, has never been to a major semifinal, standing 0-5 in her career in major quarterfinals.
It’s also been a while since we’ve seen a woman with a one-handed backhand reach the semis at the Australian Open. The last time it happened? In 2010, by Justine Henin.
Caroline Wozniacki has clinched a spot in the Australian Open quarterfinals for the first time since 2012 with a 6-3, 6-0 win over Magdalena Rybarikova.
They may no longer be working together, but Novak Djokovic and Boris Becker remain close, if seeing them cross paths at Melbourne Park is anything to go by.
Ahead of his fourth-round clash against Hyeon Chung, Djokovic, a six-time Australian Open champion, and his former coach shared a hug and some brief words before before Djokovic made his way to the practice courts.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 21, 2018
For what it’s worth, Becker has backed Roger Federer to match Djokovic’s record haul of Australian Open titles by defending his crown in Melbourne.
Federer plays Marton Fucsovics in the fourth round on Monday.
Hard to believe it’s been nearly three years since the Bryan brothers, the most prolific doubles team in men’s tennis history, last won a Grand Slam tennis event.
Or has it?
Now three months shy of their 40th birthdays, the Bryans, seeded sixth, came from a set down for the third straight match to reach the Aussie Open quarterfinals. On Sunday, they beat Jeremy Chardy and Fabrice Martin (a team that was issued a walkover into the third round when Nick Kyrgios pulled out of the competition) 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5), 6-3.
The Bryans do not have anyone in the top 10 left in their half of the draw.
Who would have imagined aces, volleys and rallies would be replaced by dunks, fast breaks and three-pointers during the Australian Open tournament?
In what has been labeled a Grand Slam first, Australia’s top-level basketball competition, the National Basketball League, will host a match smack bang in the middle of Australian tennis’ premier event.
Originally slated to be played on Jan. 14 at the 3,500 seat State Netball and Hockey Centre, Wednesday’s match was moved to the 10,300-seat Hisense Arena, thanks to some bold negotiations between the NBL and Tennis Australia.
Patrons will get access to the game with an Australian Open ground pass, which costs A$60 for adults and A$10 for children.
“This is a unique opportunity to showcase two of the world’s biggest sports in one location on one day and our fans are the big winners,” Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said.
“Combining two sports is a Grand Slam first and part of our commitment to bring more entertainment to what is already Australia’s biggest sporting event.”