Tennis

Nadal closes in on Federer final

Spaniard on course for his ninth Grand Slam final showdown with Swiss great

Rafael Nadal edged closer to a much-anticipated Australian Open final with his great rival Roger Federer after marching into the semi-finals yesterday.

The 14-time Grand Slam champion was too powerful for injury-hit world No. 3 Milos Raonic of Canada, winning 6-4, 7-6 (9/7), 6-4 in two hours 44 minutes.

The Spaniard will play Bulgaria's 15th seed Grigor Dimitrov in tomorrow's semi-final.

He holds a 7-1 lead over Dimitrov, who earlier beat Belgian David Goffin 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

Nadal, however, preferred to focus on his next match with Dimitrov rather than contemplate a ninth Grand Slam final showdown with Federer.

"Let me enjoy today, the victory, being in semi-final. For me is great news again. It's a good start of the season," he said.

"Now I have a very tough match against Dimitrov.

"Whatever happens on the other side of the draw, it is great for tennis that Roger is there again after an injury, after a lot of people talked that probably he would never be back.

"The real thing is that he's back and he's probably ready to win again, fighting again to win a Major. That's good for the fans because Roger is a legend."

I'm just so excited about being back in final rounds of the most important events. Rafael Nadal

It was another accomplished performance from the 30-year-old who reached his first Grand Slam semi-final since he won the 2014 French Open.

Nadal, who struggled with injury last year, said: "Great. It's good news. Especially winning against difficult players: (Gael) Monfils in quarter-finals, (Alexander) Zverev Round of 16 and now Raonic.

"All of them are top players. So that's very important for me because that means that I am competitive and playing well.

"I'm just so excited about being back in final rounds of the most important events."

Tomorrow's game will be Nadal's fifth Australian Open semi-final and his 24th in Grand Slams. He is bidding to win his second Australian Open title and become the first man in the Open era - and only the third man ever - to win each of the four Grand Slam titles twice.

The world No. 9 will jump to fourth on the world rankings if he clinches the title.

He began the quarter-final better and earned a break-point in the fifth game before breaking when the Canadian over-hit a smash at double break-point in his next service game.

He safely negotiated the rest of his service games and took the opening set with an overhead smash.

Nadal fought off a break point in a five-deuce service game early in the second set as Raonic began to serve better.

The Canadian left the court at 3-2 for treatment to an adductor injury. Upon his return, games went with serve until Nadal came under attack in the 10th game, saving three set-points with pressure serving.

Raonic had three more set-points in the tie-breaker and blew them all before Nadal took a two-set lead on his first set-point as the match swung decisively in the Spaniard's way.

Raonic was wayward with his volleying and made errors on crucial points to take the heat off Nadal.

The end came quickly when Raonic fell three match-points down in the 10th game and Nadal won the rally to win.

"Obviously he put it together more consistently, much more than I did today," Raonic said.

"He's doing a lot of things well. He's fighting well, which has always been his strongest attribute." - AFP

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