Things can change very quickly in sport. Just ask Rafael Nadal.

“Sometimes you feel that you are so so, then you win a couple of matches,” said the Spaniard, before clicking his fingers. “Then you feel the best possible. Something that happens plenty of times.”

With no lead-in events prior to his Australian Open title quest, apart from an exhibition appearance in Adelaide, the world No.2 has managed a back strain to still conjure up a mightily impressive opening quartet of matches Down Under.

The AO 2009 champion, within striking distance of a men’s record 21st major title, produced his “best” showing thus far on Monday, dismantling gregarious 16th seed Fabio Fognini 6-3 6-4 6-2.

The quarterfinals are calling once again, where Nadal expects to be sternly tested by fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The earlier rounds Nadal spoke with genuine concern, whether he could truly compete at Melbourne Park due to painful back spasms.

The 34-year-old had to alter his service motion in the opening three rounds, but that certainly didn’t hinder his progress; Nadal has held 52 of his 56 games.

Now with the pain receding and his movement fluid, Nadal’s tone has changed, with positivity punctuating his answers.

“I think I had an amazing preparation for the tournament. I practised very well in Mallorca and the first week in Adelaide had been fantastic, then what happened with the back, of course that stopped me a lot. But I was able to win the four matches already here, so now I’m going to have a very tough opponent in front,” he said.

“I need to play my best. Let’s see if I am able to do it. I really hope that the match of today helps and the practices tomorrow (Tuesday) will help too.

“I’m excited about playing that quarterfinals match. If we compare how I was five days ago and how I am today’s situation, it’s different, and my perspective and excitement is completely different, too.”

Advancing to the last eight, Nadal is just three matches from pulling clear of friend and familiar foe Roger Federer with Grand Slam title No.21.

The topic keeps on popping up, but the ultimate competitor doesn’t need any extra motivation in Melbourne.

“Of course, I am very motivated to win Grand Slams and to play in the most important events of the year. No doubt about that. The only thing that I said is I have never been obsessed to try to be the best,” insisted the second seed.

“I think the ambition is important, but a healthy ambition. If you have too much ambition then you can be frustrated when you are not able to achieve all the things that you wanted. I never approached the sport and my career that way. That’s it. I enjoy, I give my best always. I try to compete at my highest standards every day.

“Sometimes the highest standards are 60 percent, sometimes they are 100 percent. But I just try to give my best throughout my career, and that’s it. For me the main thing is come back home with personal satisfaction that you gave it everything. That’s what gives me happiness and makes me stay calm.”

Last January Nadal was denied at the same stage by eventual finalist Dominic Thiem.

“I had my chances I remember, served for the set in the first set and then lost a couple of tiebreaks. It been a good match in that quarterfinals I could win against one of the best players,” Nadal said.

“The preparation probably had been worse this year than the year before because I had that problem on the back for the last 19, 20 days.”

“But yeah, I found a way to be what I am today and the feelings are right there without a doubt. I make a step forward today, something that I needed, and I need to make another one for Wednesday.”

That step sees him come up against world No.6 Tsitsipas.

At AO 2019 Nadal obliterated then-teenage Tsitsipas for the loss of just six games. Nadal owns a dominant 6-1 record in their duels, but the last two have been finely-poised three setters at consecutive ATP Finals.

Tsitsipas will be looking to press and hit the front foot. But as Nadal indicates with a ‘snap’ click of the fingers, or flick of the racket on court, a lot can change very quickly.

Source: Alex Sharp