Rafa storms into semis, Serena eyes slam record

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Spain’s Rafael Nadal celebrates after winning his men’s singles quarterfinal match against Canada’s Milos Raonic at the Australian Open yesterday. The 14-time grand slam champion, who has struggled with injuries over the past few years, reached his first grand slam semifinal since he won the 2014 French Open.

A resurgent Rafael Nadal beat Milos Raonic to reach his first grand slam semifinal in three years at the Australian Open yesterday, while Serena Williams eyed a final with her sister Venus.

Nadal hasn’t contested a major semifinal since he won the last of his 14 grand slam titles at the 2014 French Open, but he never looked like losing to Raonic, the Canadian world No. 3.

Spain’s Nadal yelled in delight as he completed a 6-4, 7-6 (9/7), 6-4 win to set up a semifinal with Grigor Dimitrov, with old rival Roger Federer potentially waiting in the final.

“Even though I had a great career, I had a lot of tough moments,” said Nadal, who struggled with injury last year and failed to reach any of the grand slam quarterfinals.

“That makes me enjoy this even more.”

Nadal preferred to focus on his next match with Dimitrov rather than Federer, but he paid tribute to the Swiss legend for his amazing run at this year’s Australian Open.

“Let me enjoy today, the victory, being in semifinal. For me is great news again. It’s a good start of the season,” he told reporters. “Now I have a very tough match against Dimitrov.

“Whatever happens on the other side of the draw, I think it is great for tennis that Roger is there again after an injury, after a lot of people talked that probably he would never be back.

“The real thing is that 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. I am happy to be there, too. I am focused on my semifinal.”

Nadal has a 7-1 head-to-head record with Dimitrov, the Bulgarian 15th seed dubbed ‘Baby Fed’ for his Federer-like playing style who earlier ousted Belgium’s David Goffin 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

Federer will play fellow Swiss Stan Wawrinka in today’s semifinal with the very real prospect of a ninth grand slam final against Nadal, and the first since the 2011 French Open.

The women’s competition also has a retro feel after Serena Williams beat Britain’s Johanna Konta 6-2, 6-3 to set up a semifinal with an emotional Mirjana Lucic-Baroni — 19 years after they last met as fellow teenage prodigies.

Williams, 35, has come a long way since her last meeting with Lucic-Baroni in the second round at Wimbledon in 1998, when they were both 16 and without a trophy to their names.

While Williams is now eyeing an Open-era-record 23rd grand slam title and a return to world No. 1, the Croatian is into her first major semifinals since 1999 after her career was derailed by personal trauma.

There was little disappointment from Konta despite her steamrollering by Williams, who was able to raise her game to counter her opponent’s court speed and aggressive striking.

Despite Williams having only 45 percent success with her first serves, Konta could only break once, in the second set, and the American quickly hit back with two breaks of her own.

“I think it was probably one of the best experiences of my life,” said Konta, 25, who idolized Williams as a child. “I think there’s so many things I can learn from that, so many things I can look to improve on, also acknowledge some things that I did well.”

Also on the center court, Dimitrov soared into his second major semifinal with his straight-sets win over Goffin, his 10th victory in a row after his trophy run this month in Brisbane.

“I feel like I have all the tools to go further and my job isn’t over yet,” Dimitrov said. “I’m looking forward to my match. I think I’m prepared. I think I’m ready to go the distance. I don’t shy away from that. I’m confident enough to say that as I feel good physically, and overall on the court.”

Shanghai Daily

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