Nadal Tops Raonic, Faces Dimitrov In Australian Open SFs

Spanish superstar denies Raonic in terrific display

Rafael Nadal continues to grow in confidence. The ninth seed and 2009 champion reached his fifth Australian Open semi-final – and his first Grand Slam semi-final since 2014 Roland Garros – in stunning fashion on Wednesday night.

Nadal avenged his recent loss to Milos Raonic, the third seed, at the Brisbane International presented by Suncorp, with a 6-4, 7-6(7), 6-4 victory at Melbourne Park over the Canadian in two hours and 44 minutes. His 50th match win at the Grand Slam championship also helped him into the 24th major semi-final of his career.

“It is good news - especially beating difficult players: [Gael] Monfils, [Alexander] Zverev and now Raonic," said Nadal. "I think all of them are top players. So that's very important for me, because that means I am competitive and playing well. I am just excited about being back in the final rounds of the most important events. I am here to try to win this. It is always difficult, but I fought and I worked hard to try to make that happen.”

The 30-year-old Nadal, who is now 7-2 lifetime against Raonic, will next face No. 15 seed Grigor Dimitrov, who was a straight-sets winner over No. 11 David Goffin, on Friday. Nadal is 7-1 in his FedEx ATP Head2Head series against Dimitrov, who won their last match 6-2, 6-4 in the 2016 China Open quarter-finals.

Nadal targeted Raonic’s backhand early on, a clear tactic from fellow Mallorcan Carlos Moya, a former World No. 1 and Raonic’s former coach now working with Nadal. Raonic saved one break point in the fifth game, but lost his serve by striking an overhead long to gift Nadal a 4-3 lead. Nadal’s 12 winners, nine of 10 net points won, and just two unforced errors highlighted a dominant display in the 43-minute opener.

Raonic took an off-court medical time-out - later confirmed to be an adductor injury - when he led 3-2 in the second set, having weathered a storm. Nadal lost his confidence off the ground, and at 4-5 he recovered from 15/40 - managing to save three sets points. Two stunning pieces of anticipation at 3/3 in the tie-break helped Raonic open a lead, but more set point chances went begging at 6/4 and 7/6. Three straight forehand errors by Raonic saw him walk to his chair after a pulsating 81-minute second set.

“There were some opportunities in the second set, [but] other than that, there wasn't much for me to hold onto,” said Raonic. “I think the first two [set points], he hit one good serve well, and the other one I didn't cover the serve I should have covered. Then, after that, I think I rushed in the tie-break. I made two pretty poor mistakes off balls that didn't have much [on them] in the middle of the court on my forehand side.”

There were no break point chances in the third set, until the 10th game when 14-time Grand Slam champion Nadal raised his game and hurried Raonic into three successive errors. Having broken the Canadian to love, Nadal fell to his knees in celebration.

Nadal won 83 per cent of his first service points (63 of 76 points), 22 of his 25 points at the net, hit 40 winners and committed 21 unforced errors to clinch his spot in a fifth Australian Open semi-final.

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