Tennis

Baby Fed blocks Nadal's route to the real Fed

Rafael Nadal's stirring Grand Slam revival faces a threat from the in-form Grigor Dimitrov as he attempts to reach his first Major final in two-and-a-half years at the Australian Open.

The 30-year-old Spaniard has been out of the Grand Slam limelight since his last title success at Roland Garros in 2014, as injuries sidetracked his glorious career.

But victory over Bulgaria's 15th seed Dimitrov, once dubbed "Baby Fed", in today's second men's semi-final will put Nadal one win away from a 15th Major title.

However, Dimitrov is enjoying some of the form of his life coming into what will be his first major semi-final since Wimbledon in 2014.

Dimitrov, five years younger than Nadal, was once hailed as a future champion and nicknamed Baby Fed for his Roger Federer-style court movement and single-handed backhand.

After his upset of defending champion Andy Murray at Wimbledon in 2014, he lost to Novak Djokovic in the semis, reaching No. 8 in the rankings.

But after that, his career failed to take off.

Now under Murray's former coach Daniel Vallverdu, Dimitrov is unbeaten in 2017, winning his fifth career title in Brisbane en route to a run of 10 matches without defeat.

While Federer has enthralled the tennis world with his comeback from an injury-blighted 2016, so too has Nadal's charge through the bottom half of the draw.

He has looked like the Nadal of old as he tossed aside Alexander Zverev, Gael Monfils and Milos Raonic to be just one step away from his fourth Australian final.

Nadal has added Carlos Moya to his coaching team and since his first-round loss to Viktor Troicki in Shanghai last October he has worked hard to get his game into shape.

The reward for continuing his revival against Baby Fed will be the real deal himself on Sunday.

"He's a player that has an unbelievable talent, unbelievable potential," Nadal said of Dimitrov.

"He's started the season playing unbelievable.

"It's going to be a very tough match for me.

"I hope for him, too.

"I have to play my best because he's playing with high confidence."

The 2009 winner is 7-1 in his matches with Dimitrov, including a four-set quarter-final win at the Australian Open three years ago.

Another salient statistic is that Nadal is 66-8 against players with one-handed backhands at Grand Slams. - AFP

 

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