A standing ovation greets the players as they assume their respective positions at either end of the court. Nadal has ball in hand. He’s in control of his own destiny. Dimitrov can only hope. Nadal is three points away when Dimitrov knocks a backhand return wide. Dimitrov’s head has gone. He smacks a forehand long and it’s 30-0. Uncle Toni is encouraging his nephew from the stands. The nephew mishits a backhand. 30-15. Suddenly it’s 30-all. Dimitrov comes up with a good forehand pass. Nadal volleys. Dimitrov clips a backhand past him. Nadal thinks he’s hit an ace. It’s called out and overruled by the umpire. Dimitrov challenges. And … it’s in! Nadal finally has a match point! But it’s not over yet. Dimitrov takes control with a low forehand, then smashes confidently for deuce. But of course. Nadal earns a second match point, though, a serve down the middle forcing Dimitrov to block a spinning backhand wide. There are four hours and 54 minutes on the clock. A Nadal forehand clips the top of the net. Dimitrov thumps one into the right corner. On we go. Nadal serves wide. Dimitrov stretches and knocks a forehand long. He looks phlegmatic. A third match point, then. They rally. Nadal defends. He runs. He defends some more. And finally, mercifully, at long last, an epic semi-final draws to a close when Dimitrov sends a backhand long. That’s it. It’s all over. There was no denying the legend in the end. He’ll meet another one on Sunday. Despite the admirable Grigor Dimitrov’s best efforts, the Australian Open final will be contested between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
It will be Rafael Nadal against Roger Federer in the Australian Open final after the Spaniard withstood a gritty performance from Grigor Dimitrov to prevail 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-4 in an exhilarating contest on Friday night in the semi-finals at Melbourne Park.
It was an emotional victory for the 30-year-old Nadal, who is through to his first Grand Slam final since winning the 2014 Roland Garros crown – his 14thmajor triumph. It will be his fourth final appearance at Melbourne Park, having lifted the trophy in 2009, beating Federer in a dramatic five-set finale, and finished runner-up in 2012 (l. to Djokovic) and 2014 (l. to Wawrinka).
“It was a fantastic match. Very emotional,” said Nadal. “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 evening on Rod Laver Arena will mark the first Nadal-Federer contest since the 2015 Basel final and their 35th battle overall. Nadal leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 23-11, winning five of their past six meetings. It will be the first time since the 2011Roland Garros final, which Nadal won, that they have contested a Grand Slam championship.