Rafael Nadal once again proved Roger Federer's Grand Slam nemesis on Thursday, withstanding a withering opening from the Swiss great to reach the final of the Australian Open. The Spaniard won 6-7(5), 6-2, 7-6(5), 6-4 to prolong the agony for his greatest rival, who has now lost eight times to the Spaniard in 10 Grand Slam meetings, and has not beaten him in the majors since Wimbledon 2007.
“For me it's a dream to be back in the final,” said a smiling Nadal. “It's a real honour to play against Roger, it was a fantastic match. It's fantastic to have one player in front of you who doesn't make mistakes, having a totally complete game.”
“I thought Rafa played well from start to finish,” Federer said. “It was a tough match physically as well. I'm disappointed, but it's only the beginning of the season. I'm feeling all right, so it's OK.”
Earlier, Maria Sharapova, the fourth seed, beat second seed Petra Kvitova 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 to reach the women's final. The Russian overcame some poor serving to outlast Kvitova and move into Saturday's final, where she will play Belarusian Victoria Azarenka who beat defending champion Kim Clijsters in three tense sets to reach her first Grand Slam final.
The third-seeded Belorussian saw off a powerful second-set fight-back by the Belgian to win 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.
“I felt like my hand is about 200 kilograms and my body is about 1,000 kilograms,” Azarenka said, wiping away tears.
“Everything is shaking but that feeling when you finally win is such a relief. I can't believe it's over — I just want to cry.”
Azarenka had said earlier this week that she was in the best shape of her life after concentrating on her physical conditioning in the off-season.
She has also been able to shut out strong criticism of the screaming she makes when she hits the ball, which included large sections of the crowd mimicking her during her win over Australia's Casey Dellacqua.
Azarenka is the first Belarusian woman to reach a Grand Slam final since Natasha Zvereva finished runner-up at Roland Garros in 1988, representing the USSR.
Caroline Wozniacki will vacate the top spot in next week's rankings after her quarterfinal loss, leaving either No. 3 Azarenka or No. 4 Sharapova a chance to move to the top.
Federer produced flawless tennis at the start of the match but his game unravelled when put under pressure by Nadal, and he finished with 63 unforced errors.
Unleashing his full arsenal, four-time Australian Open champion Federer held serve to love and broke the Spaniard at his first opportunity with a devastating cross-court backhand, with Nadal struggling to gain a foothold.
Nadal broke back but third seed Federer raised his game again after his mid-set wobble and he took the tie-break when Nadal hit long.
The players swapped service breaks at the start of the second set but the turning point came when Nadal held off a Federer break point in the fifth game and then broke the Swiss in the very next game to move 4-2 up.
The match was suspended for 10 minutes for Australia Day fireworks with Nadal leading 5-2, and when play resumed, Nadal went on to level the match at one set apiece.
He took the first game of set three to love and held three break points after two consecutive Federer double faults, only for the misfiring Swiss to claw himself out of the hole.
Federer battled hard and broke Nadal in game seven of the third set but the Spaniard broke back immediately to level things up, and went on to take the tie-break on his sixth set point.
A tense fourth set went with serve with Nadal looking mentally the stronger, continuing to chase down balls from seemingly impossible situations.
He saved a break point from Federer in the eighth game and broke the Swiss in the following game.
But the Spaniard still had to fight hard to serve the match out, saving two break points.
Federer, seeking his first Major title in two years, had not dropped a set until Thursday's semifinal. But Nadal, who now leads their overall series 18-9, once again proved he has the edge over Federer on the biggest stage.
The match was the 10th Grand Slam encounter between Nadal and Federer, putting them equal with Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe for most matches played at majors.