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Nadal Beats Federer, Reaches Second Australian Open Final

Melbourne, Australia

Nadal© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal is through to his second Australian Open final.

World No. 2 Rafael Nadal reached the Australian Open final for the second time on Thursday night in Melbourne as he defeated long-time rival Roger Federer 6-7(5), 6-2, 7-6(5), 6-4.

It was only the seventh time in their 27 meetings that the player who did not win the first set went on to clinch the match. It saw Nadal extend his FedEx ATP Head2Head lead over Federer to 18-9.

"I am very happy about my results these two weeks," said Nadal. "I did much better than I thought [I would, than] what I dreamed [about] three weeks ago. So [I'm] very happy for everything. It's a fantastic victory for me. [I'm] very, very happy playing against the greatest [player] in [tennis] history in semi-finals. It's one of the victories that's going to stay in my mind forever. It's a fantastic way to start the season."

The 25-year-old Nadal is through to his fourth successive major final, and 15th overall, and is bidding for his 11th Grand Slam championship. He won the Australian Open trophy in 2009, defeating Federer in the final. His last major title came at 2011 Roland Garros, where he triumphed for a record-equalling sixth time with victory over Federer. He then followed with runner-up showings at Wimbledon and the US Open, falling to Novak Djokovic on both occasions.

In the final, Nadal will face either World No. 1 and defending champion Djokovic, or two-time runner-up Andy Murray. The second semi-final will be decided on Friday night on Rod Laver Arena.

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In their 27th meeting, it was Federer who made the faster start, punishing Nadal with his forehand and he was quick to close out the points at the net. He was rewarded with an early service break and quickly opened up a 4-1 lead. Nadal responded, though, imposing himself from the baseline and hurting Federer with high forehands into the Swiss’ one-handed backhand. He drew level in the eighth game and forced the set into a tie-break. Federer took an early lead in the tie-break and did not relinquish it. Nadal saved two set points at 3-6, but Federer converted his third chance as the Spaniard over hit a backhand long after 56 minutes.

"I think he started playing aggressively," said Nadal afterwards. "[A] very, very high level at the beginning of the match. But I really felt that when he plays like that, it's almost impossible to rise there to that level. But after the first three games I started to have the chance to hit balls, to play with a little bit [of] my rhythm, so I started to hit a few good forehands. After that moment I felt that the level started to be closer and closer."

FedererFederer looked to be taking charge of the match as he capitalised on his momentum by breaking Nadal to love in the opening game of the second set. Nadal’s response was immediate, though, breaking Federer straight back to love for 1-1. "After the [first game of the second set], I think I started to play aggressively," said Nadal. "I started to play my game finally. I had the chance to move him [around] a little bit more. Open the court [up] from his forehand after changing to his backhand."

Federer squandered a break point chance in the fifth game as he framed a forehand long, and rued his missed opportunity when Nadal went up 0/40 in the following game, converting the break on his third chance with a forehand passing shot back behind Federer. There was a 10-minute break after Nadal opened up a 5-2 lead, as Melbourne celebrated Australia Day with a firework display. It was the Spaniard who responded better at the resumption, breaking Federer to love to clinch the set and level the match.

Federer would lose 11 straight points after the break for the fireworks, and as such found himself 0-1, 0/40 down at the start of the third set. The 16-time Grand Slam champion produced clutch tennis to hold serve, though, and went on to break Nadal in a seventh game lasting more than eight minutes, converting his fourth break point chance to lead 4-3. However, for the third time in the match, Federer was unable to hold on to his break advantage, and immediately surrendered serve as Nadal levelled at 4-4. Federer saved a set point on serve in the 12th game to force a tie-break, but quickly fell behind 6-1 to Nadal, who capitalised on forehand errors that had troubled Federer for much of the set. The Basel native rallied from 1-6 to 5-6, but Nadal clinched the set on his fifth opportunity after 67 minutes as Federer netted a forehand under pressure.

Federer was threatened early in the fourth set as Nadal looked to impose his momentum quickly. The 30 year old fended off break point in the third game, and rallied from a 15/40 deficit in the fifth game to hold for 3-2. He then missed a break point chance of his own in the eighth game, teeing up on a short forehand, but missing the court by millimetres. Nadal made his breakthrough in the ninth game, converting as Federer hooked a backhand wide. The Spaniard then served out a nervy final game, saving two break points before triumphing on his second match point as Federer hit a forehand long after three hours and 42 minutes.

When asked whether he plays his best tennis against Federer, Nadal admitted, "I think sometimes. I play my best tennis against him when I am ready to play my best tennis. I don't play my best tennis because it's Roger.

"It's true I played a lot of good matches against him during my career, so [it] is something fantastic. But I believe that he played a few fantastic matches against me too during his career, during our rivalry. I enjoy playing against him. It's always a special feeling because our matches always have been special, and especially today." 

Federer, NadalIt was the 10th time the pair had clashed at a Grand Slam championship, and the first time in a major semi-final since 2005 Roland Garros, when Nadal won in four sets.

"I thought Rafa played well from start to finish, really," said Federer. "I started really well myself.  It was obviously a big set for me to win, and [I] missed obviously the opportunities in some of all the sets maybe. But Rafa did well to hang in there. At the end [I] was a bit better. It was a tough match physically as well, but [it's] only beginning of the season. I'm feeling all right, so it's okay."

World No. 3 Federer was contesting an Open Era record ninth consecutive Australian Open semi-final and was bidding to reach the final at Melbourne Park for the sixth time. He won four titles in 2004 (d. Safin), 2006 (d. Baghdatis), 2007 (d. Gonzalez) and 2010 (d. Murray), and was runner-up to Nadal in 2009. He also fell at the semi-final stage last year against Djokovic.

Federer finished the 2011 ATP World Tour season as the form player, clinching titles at the Swiss Indoors Basel (d. Nishikori), the BNP Paribas Masters (d. Tsonga) and the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals (d. Tsonga). He came into Melbourne bidding to win his 17th Grand Slam championship.

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