Roger Federer missed out on a straightforward win and had to work another 40 minutes through an extra set before defeating Andy Murray 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (6-8), 6-3 on Wednesday for an 11th straight semifinal berth at the Australian Open.
The victory puts the four-time champion into a Friday showdown with Rafael Nadal, who dealt with hand blisters in beating Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov 3-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (7), 6-2.
Federer was motoring past Murray with a two-set lead and served for victory standing 5-4 in the third.
But the quick win was not to be as Murray broke, and then saved two match points in the tiebreak for his first success on the night.
The fourth set featured a marathon 19-minute second game, with the Scot saving six break points to hold for 1-1.
Federer somehow found a way to fight through, earning a break for 5-3 and coming good for victory with a 10th ace on third match point to end a three-and-a-quarter-hour struggle.
“I had no choice but to stay out there,” said Federer. “I had to tell myself I was still in the lead.
“It was tough to lose the third and go to the fourth, I could possibly have gotten it done but Andy served well and put pressure on me. Unfortunately my serves and forehand didn’t help.
“I was disappointed but I kept a poker face. My confidence is higher than last year. My movement (after 2013 back pain) is much better now. The last four months have been good.”
“I was proud of the way I fought. That’s the highest level I’ve played at in a long time,” Murray said.
Nadal had to deal with a serious blister on his left palm, precisely where his racquet meets his hand.
“The blister only really affects me on serve,” said Nadal. “The rest of the shots are fine.
“On serve, I feel like the racquet can move. I’ll try to keep improving the hand tomorrow and be ready for the semifinal.
“The blisters are much better, but I still need to play with protection on it.”
Dimitrov won the first set in just 36 minutes but was then tested for the rest of a contest lasting for more than three-and-a-half hours.
Nadal levelled as he won the second set in a tiebreaker and saved three set points in the third to hold off his opponent.
“He has a similar style to Roger,” Nadal said of Dimitrov. “I was lucky, anything could have happened in this match. But I’m through and I’m happy for that. It gives me an opportunity to be in the semifinals again.”
The women’s semis were completed, with Pole Agnieszka Radwanska topping Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 5-7, 6-0 and Dominika Cibulkova defeating Simona Halep 6-3, 6-0.
Azarenka could not string two solid shots together in two hours of frustration. The Belarus player committed nearly 50 unforced errors while Radwanska limited hers to a mere 15 as she broke the favourite six times.
“I’ve been in so many (Australian Open) quarterfinals that I just had to try and get to a final,” said Radwanska. “I’m so happy I made it.
“I’ve lost to her so many times, she’s very consistent and I had to play my best tennis. I was aggressive and went for every shot that I could. My game as working well today,” said the winner.
Azarenka admitted she was outplayed. “I had too many easy mistakes in the important moments. She was playing amazing and getting to every ball. I was like a spectator out there.”
“I walked on the court with the confidence that I can do it today,” Cibulkova said. “I was so focusing what I have to do, to do the right things.”