In a semifinal matchup fit for a final, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer added the latest chapter to their epic rivalry on Thursday at the Australian Open.
And once again, the men who have combined to win 26 of the last 32 Grand Slam titles didn’t disappoint.
But after nearly four hours of grueling tennis on the hardcourts of Melbourne, it was the Bull who got the best of Fed-Ex.
After dropping the opening set in a tiebreaker, a finally fit Nadal was too much for Federer. The Spaniard won the ensuing three sets to claim a 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, 6-4 victory.
“All of my career all I wanted to do was keep learning because there was one player in front of me,” Nadal said afterward. “If you told me that two Sundays ago [he would be in the final] I couldn't imagine it. For me it's a dream to be back in the final.”
If there was any doubt as to whether the first major semifinal between the two champions since 2005 could stand up to their epic finals, Nadal’s post-match celebration threw that out the window.
Nadal dropped to his knees — his go-to move after winning a Grand Slam — to celebrate another exhausting victory over his rival and close friend.
Federer played a noticeably more aggressive game that in recent matchups, and he had his chances. After rallying from 1-6 down in the third-set tiebreak to pull within 5-6, he couldn’t complete the comeback. Then in the fourth set, with a break point at 4-5, Federer spun an overhead wide that allowed Nadal to regroup and close out the match.
“Please win the point, that’s all,” Nadal said he was telling himself during the tiebreaker. “I was very, very nervous at that moment. Losing four set points in a row is tough, especially when you play the toughest in history.”
But lately, Nadal has been the one out in front. With the victory, he improved to 8-2 against Federer at majors and 18-9 overall.
Now he’ll await the winner of Friday’s semifinal between defending champion Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Should Djokovic advance, Nadal must figure out how to topple a player who has owned him of late. Djokovic has won his last six tournament finals against Nadal, including last year’s Wimbledon and U.S. Open.
Following his semifinal win, Nadal encouraged Murray to be aggressive against Djokovic, perhaps hoping that the Brit who he has dominated in semifinals in recent years could pull the upset and save him some torment. But he quickly added that Murray may be better off following his own gameplan since Nadal’s hasn’t panned out too well.
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