MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Iron-willed Czech Tomas Berdych ended eight years of tyranny under nemesis Rafa Nadal to storm into the Australian Open semi-finals on Tuesday before his next opponent Andy Murray restored British colonial rule to the floodlit center court.
Maria Sharapova inflicted another grand slam reality check on Eugenie Bouchard and will play an all-Russian semi-final with plucky lefthander Ekaterina Makaraova, who thrashed third seed Simona Halep on a surprising day at Melbourne Park.
In the evening session, Murray struck back for the old guard, slapping down local teenager Nick Kyrgios 6-3 7-6(5) 6-3 to deflate home fans pumped up by the traditional sporting rivalry with former colonial masters Britain.
But it was Nadal’s 6-2 6-0 7-6(5) humbling on an unseasonably cold summer’s day that rocked Melbourne Park to its core and shook the biggest monkey in the men’s game off the back of Berdych.
The big-serving Czech’s 17-match losing streak to the Spaniard was the equal-longest in the professional era and snapping it was the result of a perfectly executed plan.
“Oh, it feels great,” Berdych told reporters. “Everything was working. I was able to execute it really well.”
In an intriguing twist, the man that helped Berdych create the master plan was Dani Vallverdu, Murray’s former hitting partner and assistant coach, who parted ways with the Scot in November.
Now in Berdych’s camp, Vallverdu will provide the intelligence for preparations against Murray.
On the strength of Berdych’s tournament, the Venezuelan has been a roaring success, with the Czech not dropping a set.
The rangy 29-year-old was irresistible in the first two sets against Nadal, wrapping them up in exactly an hour and giving the 14-times grand slam champion his first grand slam bagel since the 2006 Wimbledon final against Roger Federer.
“It was just not my day. I didn’t play with the right intensity, the right rhythm,” said a disappointed Nadal, who was nonetheless content with his run after coming back from injury and illness.
Black-clad Murray was all business against brash 19-year-old Kyrgios and needed to be for much of a high-quality encounter on a chilly, windy evening.
Kyrgios lifted to bring the crowd into the equation, but Murray rose with him, closing out the match with a barrage of scintillating winners.
“I tried to start as quickly as possible because I know how dangerous he is,” Murray said courtside of his opponent, who dumped Nadal from Wimbledon on the way to the last eight.
“I have seen his matches for the last 18 months... So I wasn’t going to underestimate him.”
It was a performance that Sharapova would have approved of after her 78-minute rout of another young upstart in Canadian Bouchard.
Bouchard claimed to have gleaned a lot from her gutting French Open loss last year, overhauled by the Russian from a set down, but nothing could have prepared her for the schooling that played out.
Completely dictated, Bouchard had nowhere to hide and the five-times grand slam champion feasted upon her serve.
She swooped in for the kill with a string of smoking winners, sealing it with a crunching inside-out forehand.
As Sharapova blew kisses, Bouchard headed straight for the exit, biting her lip.
“Am I happy that I was able to lift my game after having a couple matches where I wasn’t satisfied? Yeah, absolutely,” Sharapova told reporters.
“But the toughest is what’s to come. I hope that I’ll be able to take that and play even better.”
Third seed Halep had cruised into the quarter-finals by smiting lower-ranked opponents but ran head-first into a brick wall in the form of lithe left-hander Makarova.
The 26-year-old Makarova, who describes herself as shy off-court, blew the nerve-stricken Halep away and has not lost a set all tournament. She heads into her clash with Sharapova fresh and in top form.
“I’m not shy on the tennis court. It’s a big stage,” she said. “I never beat (Sharapova), so it will be tough.”
Editing by Sudipto Ganguly/John O'Brien