Spain’s Rafael Nadal celebrates after winning the men’s singles semifinal against Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Jan. 27, 2017. Nadal won the match by 3-2. (Xinhua/Lui Siu Wai)
The stars have aligned for a battle of champions in the final of the Australian Open after Spanish star Rafael Nadal defeated Grigor Dimitrov in a thrilling five sets.
It took just under five hours for the world No. 9 to defeat world No. 15 Dimitrov 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4, a match where the level of tennis was “just brutal in terms of physical performance” ensuring neither opponent was giving the other easy points.
“I think both of us deserve to be in that final, (it) was a great fight,” Nadal told reporters.
“Finally, (it) was me. I feel lucky.”
Lucky it was with Dimitrov failing to capitalize on a chance for a break at 4-3 which would have seen him serving for the match, only for Nadal to break on the next game from a lob comfortably played at the net.
“It’s never easy to lose a match like that,” Dimitrov told reporters, adding Nadal “deserves pretty much all the credit right now since he’s such a fighter.”
“At the same time it was an honor for me to play a match like that against him.
“It also shows me that I’m in a good way, I’m on the right path.”
The loss in his second semifinal appearance at a grand slam has ended a 10-match winning streak in the Australian summer, a sensational start to 2017 that may prove to be a springboard for a finals appearance late in the year.
“I’m sure I’m going to look back on that match, I’m going to see what I could have done better, (but) that’s also built up an experience,” Dimitrov said.
“I just don’t want to put my head down for a second right now, especially when I’m feeling good,
“I’m competing great, physically I’m getting there. Despite the disappointment, that’s going to feed me, I think, for the upcoming events.”
The ensuing final between Nadal and Federer will certainly be one of the record books, with tennis world quietly hoping a replay of their epic 2009 five-set clash for the Australian Open crown. Nadal holds the ledger over Federer, 23 wins to the Swiss ace’s 11, winning all three times they’ve met in Australia.
While the Spanish stalwart is going for his 15th major title, Nadal isn’t thinking about the past as Sunday’s clash “is a different match, different moment for both of us.”
“I think this match is completely different than what happened before,” Nadal said.
“It’s special, we have not been there in that situation for a while, so that makes the match different.”
Should Federer come out on top on Sunday, it will be his 18th grand slam win, and a remarkable comeback after spending the back half of 2016 on the sideline with injury.
Nadal is also on the comeback trail having sidelined himself after the U.S. Open to recover from a wrist injury that forced his retirement from the 2016 French Open, despite “taking risks” to play the 2016 Rio Olympic Games where he took gold in the doubles.