MELBOURNE, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal knows his path to a 17th grand slam title will only get tougher after a relatively routine run of opponents since his French Open triumph last June when he lines up against Marin Cilic in Tuesday’s Australian Open quarter-final.
The 31-year-old Spaniard dropped his first set of the tournament on Sunday before prevailing in a slugfest against Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman, the first true test of Nadal’s famed grit after three straightforward wins in Melbourne.
The victory set up a quarter-final clash with world number six and former U.S. Open champion Cilic, Nadal’s first top-10 opponent in his last 16 grand slam matches.
“All the matches are tough, and if you are in the quarter-finals of a grand slam, you can’t expect an easy match,” Nadal said after suppressing Schwartzman in seven minutes under four hours.
“Against Marin will be a tough one, but at the same time, is a beautiful match to play against a great player. We know each other. We played a couple of times already.”
Nadal will take heart from his 5-1 head-to-head record against the Croatian 29-year-old, who won their first meeting in 2009 but has since struggled against the powerful left-hander.
Cilic, however, would like to believe he is better equipped to take on top players like Nadal following his 2014 U.S. Open triumph and run to last year’s Wimbledon final.
“Throughout my career, I knew that if I’m playing well, if I’m top of my game, that I can challenge most of the guys on the tour,” he said. “With the win at the U.S. Open that, you know, I believe it just became stronger.
“I believe in my own game, I believe in what I’m doing. I think I’m moving the right direction. You know, it’s obviously a big challenge playing them, but that’s what we also work for on the training.”
Third seed Grigor Dimitrov, survivor of a fourth-round thriller against home favourite Nick Kyrgios, will also be in action against the sole surviving Briton, Kyle Edmund.
Women’s fourth seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine will seek to maintain her season-opening winning streak against Elise Mertens in the Belgian’s first grand slam quarter-final appearance. (Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by John O’Brien)