Rafael Nadal’s back complaint will be tested like never before today when he takes on an in-form Fabio Fognini on Rod Laver Arena.
Plus Ash Barty’s main obstacle for a first-time Aus Open final berth is in action.
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RAFA FACES BIGGEST TEST YET
World No.2 Rafael Nadal may boast a 12-4 record against Fabio Fognini, but there is plenty of reason for the Spaniard to be concerned ahead of the fourth round matchup between the pair today.
For starters, Fognini remains the only player to defeat Nadal in a grand slam match from two-sets-to-love down, doing so in a brilliant 2015 US Open match that ended at 1:30am.
Back in 2015, Nadal defeated Fognini in the Hamburg final 7-5, 7-5, with the Italian being caught by microphones unloading on the Spaniard during the match.
In 2019, Fognini shocked the tennis world in dismantling Nadal in straight sets in the Monte Carlo final, defeating the clay-court master and 11-time event champion in a performance that summed up the sheer firepower wielded by the 33-year-old.
Nadal insists he has a “very good relationship” with Fognini, but the 16th seed is likely going to be out for blood when he takes on the 20-time grand slam singles champion.
Fognini relishes the status of underdog and getting under his opponent’s skin and will do everything he can to aggravate Nadal’s niggling lower back injury, which he continues to manage.
Nadal faces by far his biggest test of the Aus Open so far in Fognini, who on his day can be almost unplayable, as he was against local hope Alex de Minaur on Saturday night.
Like Novak Djokovic, Fognini’s two-handed backhand down the line could prove the most important shot of the match – nailing it consistently allows him to attack Nadal’s forehand wing and open up the court.
Rafa rightly enters the match a warm favourite, but there is well and truly cause for concern for the Spaniard.
BARTY’S DRAW ON THE BRINK OF BURSTING OPEN
Fifth seed Elena Svitolina has dropped the first set 4-6 against world No.61 Jessica Pegula in a potential upset that could blow Ash Barty’s half of the draw wide open.
Already in the preferable half of the draw, with several grand slam champions set to face off in the other, Barty could reach the final without playing one top-10 seed if Svitolina is to be sent packing.
Pegula is part of one of America’s wealthiest families, worth $5 billon, with her parents owners of the NFL franchise the Buffalo Bills – beating out none other than former US president Donald Trump to make the purchase.
The 26-year-old has been in great form so far in the tournament, defeating two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka in the first round, dropping just one game to Aussie Sam Stosur in the second round and dismantling former world No.10 Kristina Mladenovic in the third round.
Pegula is already enjoying her best grand slam run to date, having never made it to the fourth round. A win would see her take on either Donna Vekic or fellow American Jen Brady for a spot in the semi-finals.
Still, Pegula has a ways to go, with Svitolina showing grit in working her way back into the match to take the second set 6-3 and send it to a decider.
AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2021 – DAY 8 – ORDER OF PLAY
Rod Laver Arena
Jessica Pegula (USA) v Elina Svitolina (UKR) 
Donna Vekic (CRO)  v Jennifer Brady (USA) 
Not before 3pm
Fabio Fognini (ITA)  v Rafael Nadal (ESP) 
Ash Barty (AUS)  v Shelby Rogers (USA)
Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE)  v Matteo Berrettini (ITA) 
Margaret Court Arena
Not before 12:30pm
Mackenzie McDonald (USA) v Daniil Medvedev (RUS) 
Andrey Rublev (RUS)  v Casper Ruud (NOR) 
Not before 6pm
Elise Mertens (BEL)  v Karolina Muchova (CZE) 
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