Rafael Nadal set up a much-anticipated Australian Open final against old rival Roger Federer with an epic, five-set semi-final win over Grigor Dimitrov.
The Spaniard won 6-3 5-7 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 in 4 hours 56 minutes to reach his first Grand Slam final since 2014. Dimitrov’s wait to reach a maiden Slam final continues after Nadal inflicted his first defeat of the year. Nadal, who is attempting to win a 15th major title, will face Swiss rival Federer in Melbourne on Sunday.
In Sundaya��s final, Nadal, will face his longtime rival Roger Federer, 35, a nostalgic counterpoint to the womena��s championship match between Venus Williams and Serena Williams. Nadal and Federer have not met in a Grand Slam final since the 2011 French Open.
Against Dimitrov, Nadal saved three break points in a tightly fought fifth set, including two at 3-4. With a backhand winner down the line, he earned the crucial break in the next game to go up by 5-4 and serve for the match. On Nadala��s third match point, Dimitrova��s final backhand landed long to end a 13-shot rally, and Nadal fell to the ground in relief.
a�?Difficult to describe the emotions,a�? he said in his on-court interview. a�?First of all, I was tired.a�?
That last point was emblematic of how the ninth-seeded Nadal managed to outlast the 15th-seeded Dimitrov, time and again showing his superior physicality in the longest exchanges. The two were more evenly matched on shorter points, but of the 64 points that lasted nine or more shots, Nadal won 39.
a�?Ita��s never easy to lose a match like that,a�? Dimitrov said. a�?Ia��m happy, though, with a lot of things. Ia��m going to stay positive and keep my head up high. For sure, Rafa deserves pretty much all the credit right now since hea��s such a fighter, such a competitor. At the same time it was an honor for me to play a match like that against him. It also shows me that Ia��m in a good way, Ia��m on the right path.a�?
Melbourne ready for ‘Dream Final’
Much of the talk before Friday’s second semi-final centred around the prospect of Nadal meeting Federer for the ninth time in a Grand Slam final.The pair dominated the men’s game between 2004 and 2010, before Novak Djokovic’s emergence, and have provided many memorable duels over the past 13 years. However, few would have suggested a fortnight ago they would be reunited in the first major final of 2017.
Federer is making his competitive return in Melbourne after six months out with a knee injury, while Nadal has also struggled with form and injury over the past couple of years. But both men have disproved the notion the combination of ageing bodies and physical problems would prevent them from challenging again for major honours.
Nadal showed few signs of fatigue in his marathon win against Dimitrov, just as Federer did not when he overcame compatriot Wawrinka in Thursday’s semi-final. Now they have been rewarded with their first Slam showpiece since the French Open in 2011.
Sundaya��s match will be the ninth Grand Slam final between Federer and Nadal, and their second here. In their previous one in 2009, Nadal beat Federer, 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-2, a match perhaps best remembered for Federera��s tearful runner-up speech in the trophy ceremony.
Nadal has won 23 of 34 matches against Federer, and 9 of 11 meetings at Grand Slam events. Nadala��s 14 Grand Slam titles is second among active players, behind Federera��s 17. Federer has not won a major tournament since Wimbledon in 2012.
a�?Ita��s special to play with Roger again in a final of a Grand Slam,a�? Nadal said. a�?I cannot lie. Ita��s great. Ita��s exciting for me, and for both of us, that wea��re still there and wea��re still fighting for important events.a�?
The womena��s final Saturday night also will feature the two active players with the most Grand Slam singles titles, with the 22-time winner Serena Williams meeting her sister, the seven-time major winner Venus Williams. This is the first Grand Slam tournament in the Open era in which all four singles finalists are 30 or older.