Nadal Edges Dimitrov In A Thriller
Spaniard to face Roger Federer in Australian Open final
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 14th major 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 2011 Roland Garros final, which Nadal won, that they have contested a Grand Slam championship.
It was a final few would have predicted at the start of the tournament, with Federer making his return to tour-level action after missing the final six months of 2016 due to injury, and Nadal having endured his own challenges due to injury and lack of form last season.
"It's special to play with Roger again in a final of a Grand Slam," said Nadal. "I cannot lie. It's great. It's exciting for me and for both of us that we are still there and we are still fighting for important events. So that's important for us, I think. That's very special."
But Nadal has been back to close to his best as he powered through the bottom half of the draw, battling past NextGenATP star Alexander Zverev in five sets in the fourth round, before taking care of Gael Monfils and Milos Raonic for the loss of just one set to reach the semi-finals.
His toughest test yet came in the form of Dimitrov, who opened 2017 on a 10-match winning streak, having captured his fifth ATP World Tour title in Brisbane (d. Nishikori), before taking advantage of Novak Djokovic’s exit to surge through his section of the draw.
Dimitrov was bidding to capitalise on his strong run of form and improved mental fortitude to reach his first Grand Slam final. He pushed Nadal all the way in an exhilarating four-hour, 56-minute contest, in what John McEnroe – commentating for Eurosport – described as the “match of his life”.
The Spaniard withstood an initial barrage from Dimitrov, who held two break point chances in a lengthy opening game. But after holding serve, Nadal raced to a 4-1 advantage, breaking Dimitrov in the fourth game by picking the Bulgarian off at the net. He afforded Dimitrov no opportunity to break back, despite the Bulgarian raising his level as the set progressed, and sealed the opener in 35 minutes with a forehand volley winner.
After squandering two break advantages and four set points, it seemed like the second set could go begging for Dimitrov. But the right-hander, who has been working on his mental strength in the big moments with his team, stepped up in the 12th game to seize his chance.
Dimitrov had led 3-1 and 5-3, but both times was immediately broken back. He was then denied four set point chances on Nadal’s serve in a 10-minute 10th game, but refused to be cowed by the Spaniard’s resilience. He went on the attack once more in the 12th game, poaching at the net to earn two more set points and converted his first as Nadal hit his forehand long after 63 minutes.
Dimitrov couldn’t hold on to the momentum in the early stages of the third set. The Bulgarian saved two break points in the third game, but couldn’t keep Nadal at bay in the fifth game, with Nadal wearing him down in the long baseline exchanges to break for a 3-2 lead. But Dimitrov again showed his ability to bounce back from disappointment, breaking Nadal straight back in the following game as the Spaniard fired a forehand wide.
The two could not be separated as the set went to a tie-break, but Nadal pulled ahead in the first point and maintained his advantage. On his first set point at 6/5, a slew of heavy backhands from the Spaniard drew the forehand error from Dimitrov and put Nadal in a commanding position in the match.
With Nadal serving first in the fourth set, the pressure was always on Dimitrov’s shoulders, but the Haskovo native rose to the occasion. Firing 19 winners, Dimitrov forced a tie-break to decide the set and seized control as he raced to a 6-3 lead, converting his second set point to a roar from the crowd after three hours and 50 minutes of play.
Nadal looked to hit straight back at the start of the fifth set, but Dimitrov held strong to thwart the Spaniard on three break points. Both men would then save more break point chances, Nadal in the second game and Dimitrov in the fifth game to see the Bulgarian lead 3-2.
A run of 26 consecutive service holds was ended, though, as Nadal made the decisive breakthrough in the ninth game. Having fended off two break points in the eighth game, the Mallorcan came atDimitrov with all his ferocity, and broke the Bulgarian with a backhand winner down the line to serve for the match at 5-4.
As he had done all match, Dimitrov refused to go away and denied Nadal on his first match point at 40/30 with an athletic reach, before then thwarting the Spaniard again with a forehand winner on his second opportunity at advantage. But at the third time of asking, Nadal fell to the floor in jubilation as Dimitrov’s shot landed long.
With Federer having edged Stan Wawrinka in five sets on Thursday night, it is the first time in Grand Slam play that both semi-finals went to five sets since 2009 Roland Garros, and the first time at the Australian Open since 2002.
Dimitrov, 25, was contesting his second major semi-final (also Wimbledon 2014). The right-hander, coached by Dani Vallverdu, will now have a week off before making his return at the Garanti Koza Sofia Open, where he will play an ATP World Tour event in Bulgaria for the first time.