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