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Nadal Holds Off Dimitrov Challenge

Melbourne, Australia

Nadal© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal is through to his 22nd Grand Slam semi-final.

World No. 1 Rafael Nadal held off an enthralling challenge from Grigor Dimitrov on Wednesday at the Australian Open to advance to the semi-finals. The Spaniard’s challenge was in doubt at times as Dimitrov’s shotmaking had Nadal on the ropes in the third set, but experience told ultimately as Nadal prevailed 3-6, 7-6(3), 7-6(7), 6-2.

"I served slower. I served bad," said Nadal. "I was able to win a match against a very difficult opponent, so that has much more value than when everything is great. And because of these victories, sometimes it happens that the next day you are able to play much better, and these victories at the end of the year are more important than the days that you are playing great."

In his 22nd Grand Slam semi-final, the 27-year-old Nadal will face either Roger Federer or Andy Murray. Three-time finalist Murray and four-time champion Federer will be going head-to-head for the first time since last year’s Australian Open semi-finals, a match the Scot won in five sets.

Watch Nadal-Dimitrov Highlights:

Nadal, who was sidelined for last year’s Australian Open, is looking to win the title for the second time after victory in 2009 (d. Federer). He finished runner-up to Novak Djokovic in the 2012 final.

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Should Nadal lift the winner’s trophy on Sunday night, he would become the first man in the Open Era to win each Grand Slam championship twice. He is chasing his 14th major trophy, adding to his Roland Garros and US Open triumphs last season.

The 2014 Australian Open has seen Dimitrov start to fulfil his potential on the major stage. The 22-year-old Dimitrov has lifted his game since beginning work with Roger Rasheed at the close of 2013 and made an impressive start to his first Grand Slam quarter-final. He broke Nadal in his opening service game, and raced through the set in 32 minutes - forcing the World No. 1 to drop a set for the first time this fortnight.

Nadal went up 2-0 in the second set, but committed three double faults in the next game to concede the advantage. After winning the second set tie-break, Nadal once again opened up a break lead in the third set, only to double fault on Dimitrov’s break point in the eighth game.

The Spaniard made another error, mis-hitting a forehand swinging volley to bring up set point for Dimitrov, but reeled off the next three points to set up a tie-break. Dimitrov had a prime opportunity to clinch the set at 6-5 with a forehand down the line, only to send it just wide. He committed the same error on Nadal’s first set point opportunity.

Nadal quickly capitalised on his momentum in the fourth set as Dimitrov’s challenge began to slip away. The Spaniard broke for a 2-0 lead with a backhand passing shot winner and afforded Dimitrov no opportunity to fight back. In the eighth game, Dimitrov saved three match points before succumbing in three hours and 37 minutes.

"[It was] very important to win the third set," said Nadal. "You are coming back after the first set and winning the next two in both tie-breaks, is a tough moment mentally for the opponent. 

"After that, if I am ready to stay strong at the beginning of the fourth, I know I'm going to have my chances. But it was an important moment. Finally it was decisive. If that ball, that forehand from him, had gone in and he had won the third, I was going to keep fighting, because I felt that I was ready for the fight. I was tired, but I think that he was tired, too. I will keep fighting until the end."

Dimitrov’s run at Melbourne Park will see the Bulgarian crack the Top 20 in the Emirates ATP Rankings for the first time.

"I'm a bit shattered," said an emotional Dimitrov in his press conference. "It's tough losing that match, my first quarter-final. I came out expecting nothing less than to win. 

"All the credit to Rafa. He's been a tremendous competitor, great guy off the court. We had a great battles the past year and now again, and hopefully in the future more."

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