Keys unlocks Krejcikova as Nadal edges toward 21 Slams

Keys unlocks Krejcikova as Nadal edges toward 21 Slams

Madison Keys put the heat on Barbora Krejcikova
Madison Keys put the heat on Barbora Krejcikova

MELBOURNE - Madison Keys continued her impeccable start to the 2022 season with a straight-sets destruction of fourth seed Barbora Krejcikova on Thursday to set up a potential Australian Open women's semi-final against Ashleigh Barty.

In the men's draw, Rafael Nadal was looking to continue his march to a record 21st Slam title as the tournament reached the quarter-final stage.

But a hot morning on Melbourne Park's centre court, Rod Laver Arena, belonged to the unseeded world number 51 Keys, who was a semi-finalist in 2015 but endured a terrible 2021 where she tumbled down the rankings.

"It means a lot," said Keys, who won 6-3, 6-2 against the French Open champion Krejcikova, who needed medical attention in the heat during the first set. "Last year was really hard."

Keys said she had had to reset completely for the new campaign and it has clearly worked.

She won an Adelaide warm-up event this month and has now amassed 11 straight match wins in Australia -- equalling her tally for the whole of 2021.

"Wow, that's gone well so far," she said. "I am really proud of myself."

She will face either Barty or a fellow American, Jessica Pegula, in Thursday's semi-finals.

World number one Barty, the 2019 French Open and 2021 Wimbledon champion, looks in irresistible form as she chases her first Australian Open crown and the first for an Australian woman in 44 years.

The 25-year-old reached the quarter-finals by comfortably dispatching the 20-year-old giant-killer Amanda Anisimova, who had already accounted for defending champion Naomi Osaka and Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Belinda Bencic.

"I try to adapt my game as best as I can to try and make my opponent uncomfortable," said Barty. "And that will be no different when Jess and I play."

Pegula, who revealed last week she had been relaxing with nights at the casino, was a surprise winner over fifth seed Maria Sakkari of Greece.

"That was definitely my best match of the year," declared the 27-year-old Pegula after reaching the last eight for the second successive year.

- Epic tiebreak -

Nadal had to survive an epic 28-minute tiebreak to seal his quarter-final berth against Canada's 14th seed Denis Shapovalov.

The Spanish great showed all his experience and tenacity to prevail 16-14 in a tiebreak, the longest of his illustrious career, before beating France's Adrian Mannarino in straight sets.

"First set was very emotional," said the 35-year-old Nadal, who won his lone Australian Open back in 2009.

A second this year would take him ahead of absent rivals Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, who also have 20 Grand Slam titles.

The 22-year-old Shapovalov -- who caught Covid-19 before the Slam and was not even sure he would play in Melbourne -- enjoyed a routine win against an out-of-sorts world number three Alexander Zverev.

"After coming out of quarantine and playing the ATP Cup, I had a little bit of doubt, wasn't ready to play the first match and worked my way through the tournament," said Shapovalov.

Veteran Frenchman Gael Monfils meets big-serving Italian Matteo Berrettini in the last quarter-final on Tuesday and warned the seventh seed: "I'm not quite finished yet".

The 35-year-old 17th seed Monfils is yet to drop a set in Melbourne while Berrettini sent down 28 aces in sweeping past Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta.

"He's feeling good, I'm feeling good," said Berrettini. "It's going to be a fight."

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