Rafael Nadal wins thriller to set up marquee final vs. Roger Federer

By The Sports Xchange  |  Jan. 27, 2017 at 10:58 AM
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Rafael Nadal will face longtime rival Roger Federer in the Australian Open final after the Spaniard withstood a five-set thriller against Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4 in the semifinals on Friday.

The 30-year-old Nadal is through to his first Grand Slam final since winning the 2014 French Open crown -- his 14th and last major victory.

It will be Nadal's fourth final appearance at Melbourne Park, lifting the trophy in 2009 when he beat Federer in a five-set finale and finishing runner-up in 2012 and 2014.

Nadal fought off two break points in the eighth game of the fifth set and then hit a backhand winner down the line to break Dimitrov in the next game and take a 5-4 lead before closing out the victory in the following game to win in 4 hours, 56 minutes.

"It was a fantastic match. Very emotional," the ninth-seeded Nadal said after the win against No. 15 Dimitrov of Bulgaria. "I think Grigor played great. I played great. So was a great quality of tennis tonight. For me, it is amazing to be through to a final of a Grand Slam again here in Australia at the start of the year. Means a lot to me. I feel the love of the people here. They give me a lot of positive energy.

"I feel very happy to be part of this match. There was a moment in the fifth set that for sure I wanted to win. I said to myself, 'I am giving my best, I am playing very well. If I lose, that's it. Grigor deserves it, too.' I think both of us deserved to be in that final. It was a great fight. Finally was me. I feel lucky. I am very happy for that."

Sunday night on Rod Laver Arena will mark the first Nadal-Federer contest since the 2015 Basel final and their 35th battle overall. Nadal leads their rivalry 23-11, winning five of their past six meetings. Federer hasn't beaten Nadal in a major final since Wimbledon in 2007.

The marquee final match-up was unlikely at the start of the tournament, with Federer making his return to tour-level action after missing the final six months of 2016 due to a knee injury and Nadal having endured his own challenges due to injury and lack of form last season.

"It's special to play with Roger again in a final of a Grand Slam," Nadal said. "I cannot lie. It's great. It's exciting for me and for both of us that we are still there and we are still fighting for important events. So that's important for us, I think. That's very special."

Federer is the all-time men's leader with 17 major titles, while Nadal is tied for second with retired Pete Sampras at 14.

"I hope to be ready to compete well again," Nadal said. "I need to go back to the hotel, to rest well and to recover from now."

The 35-year-old Federer won a five-set match over fellow Swiss countryman Stan Wawrinka on Thursday to become the oldest men's singles player to reach a Grand Slam final since Ken Rosewall did so at the 1974 U.S. Open at the age of 39.

The 17th-seeded Federer, a four-time former Australian champion, last won a major at Wimbledon in 2012. He last won the title in Melbourne in 2010.

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