Sport Tennis Australian Open Australian Open 2017: Age proves no barrier as Nadal sees off Raonic
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Australian Open 2017: Age proves no barrier as Nadal sees off Raonic

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal was all smiles after winning through to the semi-finals. Photo: Getty
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There’s a theme developing at Melbourne Park.

The 2017 edition of the Australian Open, already enriched by a range of compelling storylines not limited to the comebacks of Roger Federer and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni and the early exit of top seeds Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber, is the tournament of the veterans.

Of the eight semi-finalists across the men’s and women’s singles, six are aged 30 or over, with Rafael Nadal the last to join that group after a 6-4 7-6 (9-7) 6-4 success against Milos Raonic on Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday evening.

Nadal’s win came just hours after 35-year-old Serena Williams and Lucic-Baroni, 34, progressed to the semi-finals, joining Venus Williams (36), while on the other side of the draw, Roger Federer (35) and Stanislas Wawrinka (31) had their feet up following victories on Tuesday, no doubt watching Nadal.

Raonic, seeded third, had four years on Nadal, 30, but this, like seven of the eight quarter-finals across the board, was won by the older, wiser and smarter player.

The only quarter-final result not to follow that script also came on Wednesday when Grigor Dimitrov beat David Goffin – a player not even six months older than him – but it was the exception.

Nadal, who won both the first and third sets against Raonic with a single break, used all of his big-game experience in the second, saving six set points with a series of clutch strokes.

It was the defining period of the match and Nadal had all the answers.

Then, to rub salt in the wound, on his first set point, he piled the pressure on Raonic, who later said he was affected by an adductor problem.

Like Nadal knew it would, the error came, and the Spaniard, who was able to thwart the influence of Raonic’s power serve throughout the contest, had an advantage he never looked like giving up.

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Nadal had all the answers for Raonic in his three-set win. Photo: Getty

He now plays Dimitrov in the last four and it is impossible not to feel a little for the 25-year-old.

At just about any other grand slam, he would be the crowd favourite.

Dimitrov will be the underdog, the man who has never reached a grand slam final, against a man who has made 20, winning 14.

But there is no chance of the crowd being behind Dimitrov, bar his pocket of Bulgarian supporters, in Melbourne, where the fans have been giddy all week about a potential Federer-Nadal final, perhaps for one last, special, time.

A ninth grand slam final between sisters Serena and Venus Williams remains a possibility, too, in a tournament that currently has the potential to be remembered for many years to come.

After his latest win, Nadal, who has not made the last four of a grand slam since 2014, was asked by The New Daily about the fact the ageing players are dominating at Melbourne Park.

His message? To soak it up, tennis fans, because it probably won’t happen again.

“It happened this time,” he said.

“I think [it] is getting tougher now. I think now there is really a new very good generation.

“Probably few years ago things were a little bit different, but now there’s a lot of good young kids, no?

“It’s going to be tough to make that [six players aged 30 or over in the semi-finals] happen again.”

milosraonicaustralianopen
Raonic could not convert any of his four break points. Photo: Getty

He is right, of course.

Despite the improvements in sports science, thirty-somethings won’t continue to have the wood over players fitter and sharper than them.

It just doesn’t work like that. That’s why athletes retire.

But, just for now, wise heads are prevailing. Even if they are getting a little excited themselves.

It was refreshing, in this cliche-ridden day and age of athletes taking it one match at a time and giving 110 per cent, that Nadal – after acknowledging Dimitrov would give him a “very tough match” – allowed himself a moment to think, out loud, about another battle with Federer.

“I think [it] is great for tennis that Roger is there again after an injury, after a lot of people talks about always the same things, that probably he will never be back,” he said.

“He’s back and he’s probably ready to win again, fighting again to win a major … that’s good for the fans, because Roger is a legend of our sport, no?”

He is. And so is Nadal.

The sporting world hopes the pair have another chapter of their famous rivalry left in them.

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