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Australian Open: Rafael Nadal moves closer to history; Novak Djokovic hopes he can play

Rafael Nadal Australian Open

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 13: Rafael Nadal of Spain serves in his Men’s Singles third round match against Cameron Norrie of Great Britain during day six of the 2021 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on February 13, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

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Rafael Nadal has quite the opportunity to win his second Australian Open, and to break the male record he shares with Roger Federer for the most Grand Slam singles titles.

Nadal, who came into the tournament pessimistic about a back muscle injury, swept his third consecutive opponent, Brit Cam Norrie 7-5, 6-2, 7-5, to reach the fourth round with ease. The Spaniard gets 16th seed Fabio Fognini of Italy in the round of 16 on Monday.

“The biggest victory is the back is better for the first day,” said Nadal, whose problems began three weeks ago, soon after arriving in Australia.

Nadal, eyeing a 21st major title and to become the first man to win each major twice in the Open Era, is seeded second in Melbourne.


In the other half of the draw, No. 1 Novak Djokovic, a record eight-time Australian Open champion, might not play his Sunday fourth-round match against Canadian Milos Raonic. Djokovic said after gutting out a five-set win over Taylor Fritz on Friday that he tore a muscle in his abdominal area.

“I don’t know if I’ll manage to recover from that in less than two days,” Djokovic said Friday, before not practicing Saturday.

The 39-year-old Federer is skipping a third consecutive major after two knee surgeries.

There were no fans in the stands Saturday for the first time due to the start of a five-day lockdown imposed by the Victoria state government in response to a COVID-19 outbreak at a quarantine hotel. Up to 30,000 spectators daily — 50% of capacity — had been admitted on previous days.

Sunday’s marquee matches include Serena Williams facing her first top-10 opponent in 17 months -- No. 7 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, who has won 18 of her last 19 matches but has a reputation for performing better outside of Slams.

Also, a pair of battles between major champions: Naomi Osaka vs. Garbine Muguruza and Simona Halep vs. Iga Swiatek.

Earlier Saturday, top-ranked Ash Barty beat Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia 6-2, 6-4 to reach the fourth round of the Australian Open for the third straight year.

Barty rallied from 4-2 down in the second set and broke Alexandrova’s serve to make it 4-all on her sixth break point. She then won 10 of the last 15 points to close out the match.

Barty next faces Shelby Rogers, one of four American women in the round of 16 after beating No. 21 Anett Kontaveit 6-4, 6-3.

No. 25 seed Karolina Muchova staged an astounding second-set comeback from a 5-0 deficit in near silence, which only made the turnaround seem more bizarre as she beat No. 6 Karolina Pliskova 7-5, 7-5.

No. 22 Jennifer Brady and No. 28 Donna Vekic had wins to advance to fourth-round showdown.

No. 61-ranked Jessica Pegula reached the fourth round by drubbing Kristina Mladenovic 6-2, 6-1.

Even Pegula seemed surprised by her best career showing at a major tournament, which started with a first-round win over two-time Australian champion Victoria Azarenka.

“I don’t really expect to be playing this good next match,” Pegula, the daughter of Terry and Kim Pegula, owners of the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres, said of her fourth-rounder against No. 5. seed Elina Svitolina.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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