Rafael Nadal defeated Roger Federer in straight sets to reach the Australian Open tennis final, where he can tie Pete Sampras with his 14th major title.
The top seed won 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-3 yesterday to set up the match with Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka in Melbourne. Federer will also cede his No. 1 Swiss ranking to Wawrinka.
Nadal, 27, missed last year’s Australian Open with a knee injury and won the title in 2009. The Spaniard is trying to become the first male player since tennis went professional in 1968 to win two titles at each of the four Grand Slams.
“After missing last year, it’s really emotional for me to be back and playing on this court and making the final,” Nadal said in a televised courtside interview.
Today, Li Na of China and Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova play for the women’s title. Li, the no. 4 who won the 2011 French Open, has beaten the 20th-seeded Cibulkova all four times they’ve played.
Federer, the record 17-time men’s Grand Slam champion, hadn’t beaten the left-hander in a major since 2007 at Wimbledon, and he started the match aggressively.
In the first set, they stayed on serve and reached the tie-break, where Nadal took a 5-1 lead. The 32-year-old Federer got it back to 5-4, but the Spaniard was able to get set point with a serve out wide, and then Federer hit a shot long.
“The first set was tough,” Nadal said. “I had a few break points before the tiebreak. At the end, we played some really tough rallies. He was playing really aggressive, taking the ball early, and I really had to play defensively.”
Nadal took a medical time out after winning the first game of the second set for treatment on a coin-sized blister on his left hand. He was able to break Federer to go up 4-2 and then served out the set.
The final set featured three breaks. The Spaniard got the first to go up 2-1, but Federer broke right back to even the match. The pressure on the right-hander’s serve continued, with Nadal not converting break points in the next game. The breakthrough came in the seventh game, as Nadal took a 4-3 lead when Federer made a forehand error.
Federer hit long on match point, and Nadal pumped his fist in celebration as he moved into the final.
“I think this is a very good start to the season for me overall,” Federer told reporters. “I played some really good tennis here. I still feel my best tennis is only ahead of me right now. So I’m looking forward to the next couple of months, how they’re going to play out for me.”
Nadal will take on Federer’s Swiss compatriot, Wawrinka, in the final tomorrow. Wawrinka reached the final by upsetting defending champion Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the quarterfinals, and defeating Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic in the semifinals.
“Wawrinka is playing incredible, he should come to this final with confidence,” Nadal said.
By making the final, Wawrinka surpasses Federer to become the top-ranked Swiss player. He will be at least ranked fifth on the men’s ATP Tennis Tour and could rise to third with a win. Federer, who has been the top-ranked player from the country since 2001, will drop to No. 8 in the world.
Wawrinka, 28, has played the Spaniard 12 times without a victory, or even winning a set. It’s the first time the top seed and the eighth seed will meet in a Grand Slam final in the professional era.
“I’m really very happy the way I played,” Nadal told reporters. “It’s very special moment try to have the chance to be in another final.”
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