Sport Tennis Australian Open Australian Open 2017: Nadal wins five-set epic to set up Federer final

Australian Open 2017: Nadal wins five-set epic to set up Federer final

Nadal celebrates his exciting victory. Photo: Getty
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Sports fans have got their wish.

On Sunday evening at Melbourne Park, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will lock horns in a grand slam final for the ninth, and probably the last, time.

The pair have dominated tennis since the turn of the millennium, winning an incredible 31 grand slam titles between them, and although their influence has waned in recent years, as old age, injuries, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray took hold, their rivalry still remains the sport’s best.

A re-match was very close to not happening, though, with Nadal needing four hours and 56 minutes on Rod Laver Arena to finally see off a brave Grigor Dimitrov 6-3 5-7 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 in the match of the Australian Open so far.

In a match that started on Friday night and spilled over into Saturday morning, Dimitrov, in just his second grand slam semi-final, constantly threatened to spoil the dream decider.

Twice, he trailed by a set and twice, he levelled proceedings.

Buoyed by a small contingent of Bulgarian supporters who never stopped singing, Dimitrov never stopped fighting, but, leading 4-3 in the final set, and with two break points on Nadal’s serve at 15-40, he passed up a golden opportunity.

No player loves a scrap more than Nadal and he hung on for the toughest of holds, in which Melbourne Park marvelled at his ability to lift in the big moments.

Dimitrov, clearly deflated, was broken in the very next game, but even the task of holding serve to win proved difficult in an encounter that became more and more gripping as it went on.

Nadal could not convert his first two match points, having no answer to Dimitrov forehands, but it was third time lucky for the Spaniard, an errant backhand from his opponent ending a match that ebbed and flowed in all the right places.

“[It] is special [to] play with Roger again in a final of a grand slam,” Nadal said in his post-match press conference.

“I cannot lie. [It] is great. [It] is exciting for me and for both of us that we [are] still there and we [are] still fighting for important events. That’s very special.

Nadal served superbly in the first set. Photo: Getty

“We have not been there in that situation for a while, so that makes the match different. I really don’t think about what happened in the past.”

Nadal leads the head-to-head record against Federer 23-11, but they have played just once in three years – a match won by the Swiss maestro – and the 35-year-old will surely benefit from an extra 24 hours of recovery.

This semi-final going the distance, like Federer’s did, looked unlikely after a 35-minute first set in which the two unforced errors made by Nadal came in the very first two points of the match.

At one stage, Nadal won 12 consecutive points on serve, but the pendulum swung early in the second set when the eventual winner, given a code violation for taking too long between serves, was broken to love.

Dimitrov held for a 4-1 lead, but could not repeat the dose when serving for the break-riddled second set at 5-4, and when he passed up four set points in the very next game, it seemed pivotal.

This match was following a similar script to Nadal’s quarter-final win over Milos Raonic, in which the 30-year-old took the first set with a single break and then saved six set points before winning the second, but Dimitrov eventually restored parity, courtesy of a Nadal mistake.

They traded breaks in the third, won by Nadal in a tiebreak, but the roles were reversed in the next, Dimitrov playing the better tennis in the dying stages to send the match past midnight.

Three of the first four sets went for over an hour, but there were no signs of a quick fifth due to fatigue, in fact, completely the opposite; the first game went for 13 minutes as Dimitrov saved two break points to hold, the next for nine.

Nadal and Dimitrov embrace after the match ended. Photo: Getty

As if it was possible, as the stakes rose, so did the quality, with Dimitrov showing exactly why he was dubbed ‘Baby Fed’ all those years ago.

In the eighth game of the decider, he had every chance to break and then serve for the match, but when it counted most, Nadal’s best was just a fraction too good.

So, 24 hours after 36-year-old Venus Williams takes on 35-year-old sister Serena in the women’s final, Federer and Nadal will do battle in another contest sure to attract the eyes of the world.

Even Dimitrov, just after his defeat, acknowledged it is ‘super amazing’ and ‘great for the sport’.

This year’s Australian Open truly is one for the ages.

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