Rafael Nadal sees his quarter-final showdown with big-match player Marin Cilic on Tuesday as the time to crank up his Australian Open offensive for Grand Slam number 17.
The Spanish world No.1 has been in ominous form in the first week after coming into the year’s opening major tournament with knee concerns.
Nadal, who lost to Roger Federer in last year’s final, overcame tenacious Argentine Diego Schwartzman in a classic round of 16 encounter and will have to get past former US Open champion Cilic to reach the semi-finals.
In Tuesday’s other quarter-final in the top half of the draw, Bulgaria’s world No.3 Grigor Dimitrov is up against British hope and 49th-ranked Kyle Edmund for a place in the last four.
Nadal leads world No.6 Cilic 5-1 in career meetings, including a straight sets win over the Croat in the round of 16 in Melbourne in 2011.
“Now is the moment to make a step forward, to play again more aggressive,” Nadal said.
“I know I’m going to have a tough opponent with Cilic. I need to play aggressive and play well.”
Nadal is respectful of the Croat’s abilities and is expecting another ding-dong struggle with last year’s Wimbledon finalist.
“Marin will be a tough one, but at the same time, it’s a beautiful match to play against a great player,” he said.
“We know each other. We’ve played a couple of times and I know I need to play well. I hope to be ready to make that happen.”
Cilic has moved efficiently through the draw with wins over Vasek Pospisil, Joao Sousa, Ryan Harrison and Spanish 10th seed Pablo Carreno Busta.
“Generally throughout my career, I know that if I’m playing well, if I’m top of my game, that I can challenge most of the guys on the tour,” a confident Cilic said.
“And with the win at the US Open I now believe in my own game, I believe in what I’m doing.
“I think I’m moving the right direction. It’s obviously a big challenge, but that’s what we also work for at training.
“My goal in this year is to win a Grand Slam. It’s a big challenge, but I’m improving every single year.”
– Extra gear –
Dimitrov beat Edmund only two weeks ago in the quarter-finals at the Brisbane International, but he is prepared for another struggle after his monumental four-set victory over Australian Nick Kyrgios in the round of 16.
“He’s gone this far. So for sure I need to be ready. There is no place to underestimate him or anything like that,” Dimitrov said.
“I am finding that extra gear in every match and the main thing for me is to really focus on myself.”
Edmund, the only British man in the draw after five-time finalist Andy Murray’s injury withdrawal before the tournament, is having his best run at a Grand Slam.
He upset US Open finalist and 11th seed Kevin Anderson in the first round and followed up with wins over Denis Istomin, Nikoloz Basilashvili and Andreas Seppi.
“The match against Grigor in Brisbane wasn’t that long ago and I played well, he also played well,” Edmund said.
“Of course, we can take things from that. There is a lot of things I did do well. Maybe a few things I could do better, and I will try and do that when I play him.”