Nadal sees off Dim­itrov to set up throw­back fi­nal against Federer Down Un­der

Epic clash of Nadal sends out warn­ing sig ns but Swiss ri­val ready for for­mi­da­ble task ly­ing ahead in Grand Slam fi­nal

The Herald - Herald Sport - - FRONT PAGE - SI­MON CAMBERS IN MEL­BOURNE

ROGER FEDERER like s his sleep but, as Ra fa el Nada land Gr igor Dim­itrov slugg edit out­last nightin a gru­elling semi-fi­nal here, he may well have al­lowed him­self a late night. How­ever, even as he en­joyed the two hit­ting each other al­most into obliv­ion, by the tim e he fi­nally turned in, he will have re­mem­bered that, in Nadal, he will face a huge bat­tle forg lory in the fi­nal of the Aus­tralian Open.

It is the fi­nal ev­ery­one wanted, maybe even Fed er er, who de­scribed him­self as Nadal’s No .1 fan after his win over Stan Wawrink a on Thurs­day.

Yes­ter­day, Nadal joined him in the fi­nal–his first Grand Slam fi­nal since the French Open in 2014– with a 6-3 5 - 7 7-6 6-7 6-4 win over avaliant, bril­liant Gr igor Dim­itrov of Bul­garia.

Dim­itrov, play­ing surely the best ten­nis of his ca­reer, had his chances when he led 4-3 in the fi­nal set and 15-40 on the Nadal serve but that was when the Spa­niard re­lied on the mus­cle mem­ory of all those great bat­tles over the past decade.

Hav­ing held serve, he then broke Dim­itrov in the next game and served out the match, fall­ing to the ground in re­lief, ec­stasy and ex­haus­tion on his third match point.

“For me, it is amaz­ing to be through to a fi­nal of a Grand Slam again here in Aus­tralia at the first month of the year ,” Nadals aid .“It means a lot tome.

“In the fifth set, the tim e came that I wanted to win. I think both of us de­serve to be in that fi­nal. It­was a great fight. Fi­nally it was me. I feel lucky. I am very happy for that.”

Hav­ing missed large chunks of 2016, when his wrist in­jury cost him a shot at the French Open ti­tle and caused him to miss Wim­ble­don, Nadal’s come back has been noth­ing short of ex­tra­or­di­nary.

Ju stas Fe de re rne ve r ex­pected to be in the fi­nal after six months out with a knee in­jury, so Nadal thought it would take tim e for him to re­cover top form.

But his win over Dim­itrov means he and Fed er er will meet for the 35 th time in their his­tory, the late stste p in one of the great­est ri­val­ries in the sport’ s his­tory.

Nadal leads their head to head bat­tle s 21-14 butwill have one day les store cover, some­thing he man­aged when he beat Federer to win the ti­tle in 2009 , albe it when he was ju st22, not30.

When Fed er er flew to Man ac or in Oc­to­ber to help open Nadal’s new ten­nis academy, the pair laughed at their in­abil­ity to play an ex­hi­bi­tion, both still re­cov­er­ing from in­jury.

“That mo­ment was amaz­ing for our vil­lage, Man ac or. I can’ t stop say­ing thanks be­cause it was a very emo­tional mo­ment for ev­ery­body in Man ac or, for ev­ery­body in the academy, for the kids, too.

“In that mo­ment, for sure we never thought that we had the chance to be again in a fi­nal and es­pe­cially in the first[ slam] of the year.

“It hap­pened. Both of us worked very hard to be where we are. It is great. It is great that, again, we are in a mo­ment like this and we go­ing to have a chance again to en­joy a mo­ment like this.

“Just very happy for me and very happy for him be­cause I think it’s go­ing to be a very nice mo­ment .”

For all the dom­i­nance of No­vak Djokovic in re­cent years and the ef­forts of Andy Mur­ray and Stan Wawrink a in win­ning three Grand Slams a piece, Nadal and Fe de re rdom inate d the sportf or the best part of a decade .

From the be­gin­ning of 2005 to the e nd of 2015 , atle as­tone of Fe de re rand Nadal re ac he d the fi­nal in 35 of the 44 Grand Slam events.

Their con­tra st­ing styles made for drama and in­ten­sity, for fans and play­ers alike.

“There are dif­fer­ent ways to play ten­nis ,” Nada ls aid .“Both of us, I think, had alotof good suc­cess with the se two dif­fer­ent styles.

“I feel that this ri­valry goes not only in the ten­nis world. Peo­ple from out­side of our world talk about this, and that’s good for our sport. It is good that we are back there .”

Nadal will have more than 24 hours less than Fed er er to re­cover for the fi­nal, but Car­los Moya, who joined Nadal’s coach­ing team at the end of 2016, said he had the strength to be ready for tomorrow.

“It was a very de­mand­ing match, phys­i­cally and men­tally, but in the past Rafah as been able to re­cover well from th­ese matches ,” Moya said. “So he’ s go­ing to be okay, I think .”

Pic­ture: Getty

SMASH AND GRAB: Nadal over­came Dim­itrov in a gru­elling semi-fi­nal match to setup a clas­sicOpen fi­nal again­stold ri­val Federer.

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