Tennis

Nadal sets up dream final with Federer

Rafael Nadal set up dream final with old foe Roger Federer at the Australian Open after beating Grigor Dimitrov in a five-set thriller.

A day after the 35-year-old Swiss legend continued to roll back the years in Melbourne by defeating Stan Wawrinka in a deciding set, Nadal followed suit with an equally epic victory over a player once nicknamed 'Baby Fed'.

The Spaniard was on court for nearly five hours before running out a 6-3 5-7 7-6 (7/5) 6-7 (4/7) 6-4 winner in an absorbing contest on Rod Laver Arena.

Dimitrov threatened to derail Melbourne's dream reunion by twice coming from behind to force a decider, but Nadal was relentless, powering his way through to his 21st major final and first since winning the French Open in 2014.

That he meets Federer there will be viewed as the perfect closing chapter to a throwback Australian Open, which now boasts four singles finalists aged 30 or older - a first for a grand slam in the Open era.

Venus Williams, 36, and her sister Serena, 35, will fight it out for the women's title on Saturday, in an exact replica of the finals bill at Wimbledon nine years ago.

Nadal then defeated Federer 9-7 in the fifth set, in what is widely considered the greatest match the sport has ever seen, but few would have predicted the pair would be meeting again for their ninth grand slam final, 34 major tournaments later.

Nadal will be chasing his 15th grand slam title to edge one closer to Federer, who stands on the brink of his 18th.

  • Federer and Nadal head-to-head

    [Panel 1 description]

    Overall: Nadal 23-11
    On hardcourt: Nadal 9-7
    In Grand Slams: Nadal 9-2
    In Australian Open: Nadal 3-0
    In finals: Nadal 14-7

"It's a privilege," Nadal said on court afterwards. "It's a very special thing for both of us to be in the final of a major again and have the chance to compete against each other after a couple of years out with some problems.

"It was a moment we never thought we were ever going to have again, to be in the final in Australia, so we both feel very happy."

Nadal will also be bidding to win his second Australian Open title, which would see him become the first man in the Open era to win all four grand slam titles twice.

He was nearly undone here by Dimitrov, who came within a whisker of reaching his first major final and showed why many still consider him to be a multiple champion of the future.

The 25-year-old may well look back on three break points missed in the fifth set and wonder what might have been.

It was not so close at the start, as an angled volley sealed the first set for Nadal, who had made just two unforced errors and won 18 of 20 points on his first serve. Dimitrov could do little but wait.

His time came in the second, with Nadal serving to stay in the set at 5-4, as Dimitrov had four set points but struggled to get over the line.

Nadal saved the first with a lassoing forehand and the last with an ace but in between Dimitrov was too generous, as two unforced errors helped his opponent to hold.

If this was a test of character, Dimitrov passed as he came again two games later to finally grab the set.

At 6-5 in the third, with Nadal serving for a tie-break, there was a six-minute delay while a spectator required medical attention.

But when the action resumed, Nadal powered into the tie-break for a 4-2 lead, before clinching the set when two Dimitrov forehands missed their mark.

Neither player let up in the fourth, thrashing the ball from one end to the other in an awesome baseline battle, but no breaks meant again a tie-break would settle it.

This time Dimitrov moved 5-2 clear and then a cool backhand volley gave him three set points. Nadal saved one but not the next as a thundering serve sent the match to a decider.

Nadal raced out of the blocks, opening up three break points in the first game, but failed to convert, and then it was Dimitrov's turn, a stinging backhand down the line giving him 30-40 but Nadal also held on.

There were two more break points apiece before finally Dimitrov submitted at 4-4. Nadal whipped away a forehand pass, hunted down Dimitrov's retrieval and drove it down the line for the break.

Serving for the match, Nadal delivered an ace for match point, called out but shown to have nicked the line on review. Dimitrov saved one with an ice-cool smash and then another with a blistering forehand.

A third match point proved beyond him, however, as a weary backhand drifted past the baseline. Nadal fell to his knees in celebration after an enthralling four hours and 56 minutes.

Federer v Nadal: Classic matches

Sunday's Australian Open final sees two of the great rivals in tennis meet once again with a Grand Slam title on the line.

Here, we take a trip down memory lane to look back at five of their most memorable meetings.

Miami, 2005, F (outdoor hard) - Federer 2-6 6-7 7-6 6-3 6-1

In what was just their second match against each other, Federer came from two sets down to claim the Masters title in Miami. Already a multiple Grand Slam winner, Federer knew all about the rising star of Nadal, who had beaten him at the same venue 12 months earlier when he was only 17. Yet he was unable to fend off the teenager in the early stages and when he fell 4-1 down in the third set, the game looked up. However, using his greater experience to the maximum effect, Federer dug deep and managed to turn the match around, Nadal wilting in the final stages. This remained the only match Nadal had lost from two sets up until this year's US Open defeat to Fabio Fognini.

Rome, 2006, F (outdoor clay) - Nadal 6-7 7-6 6-4 2-6 7-6

The best claycourt match these two greats have played came not at Roland Garros but in the Eternal City. The contest certainly went on and on - it lasted more than five hours - but it kept an enthralled crowd on the edge of their seats. There was rarely little between the pair as they traded from the baseline, although Federer did have plenty of success when he came forward. The Swiss had the momentum when he took control in the fourth set. He went a break up in the decider but Nadal's ability to run all day was already well known and he would not stay down. He did, however, stand on the brink at 5-6 15-40 only to save two match points and then claim the resultant tie-break, again after Federer led. The victory was Nadal's 53rd in a row on the clay. His streak would finally stop at 81.

Wimbledon, 2008, F (outdoor grass) - Nadal 6-4 6-4 6-7 6-7 9-7

For me, and many others, this is not only the greatest match Federer and Nadal have ever played but also the best tennis match of all time. Bar none. The quality was staggeringly high, reaching a peak in the fourth-set tie-break as Federer fought back from two sets down to level the match. With Nadal having missed two championship points - more accurately Federer saved them - the five-time defending champion looked the more likely winner heading into a decider which was interrupted by rain. The gloom was gathering when the players returned but on they went, both refusing to relent. Federer finally cracked in the 15th game. Nadal duly served out, clinching victory after four hours and 48 minutes of sensational tennis at 9.15pm.

Australian Open, 2009, F (outdoor hard) - Nadal 7-5 3-6 7-6 3-6 6-2

Six months on from their classic Wimbledon encounter came another epic in the Melbourne final. It actually challenged the SW19 clash in terms of quality - the high-bouncing hardcourt allowing both players to show off their full array of shotmaking skills. However, having twice fought back from a set down, Federer looked weary in the decider as Nadal took control, pushing on to add another notch to his tally of wins over Federer. Having previously taken Federer down on the clay and the grass, this win confirmed Nadal as the new king of the court.

Cincinnati, 2013, QF (outdoor hard) - Nadal 5-7 6-4 6-3

In more recent years, Federer-Nadal matches had been much-anticipated but often failed to live up to the high expectations created by what has gone before. However, this meeting was something of a 'mini-classic'. Federer came into the clash in poor form but grabbed the first set, often driving through his backhand - a wing so often attacked by his nemesis. However, Nadal hit back as Federer's error count rose. The Spaniard grabbed an early break in the final set and, despite Federer's best efforts, held onto it throughout. Victory for Nadal made it 21 wins in 31 matches against his greatest rival.

The final In their own words

Rafael Nadal:

"It's a very special thing for both of us to be in the final of a major again and have the chance to compete against each other after a couple of years out with some problems.

"It was a moment we never thought we were ever going to have again, to be in the final in Australia, so we both feel very happy."

Roger Federer:

"Rafa has presented me with the biggest challenge in the game. I'm his number one fan. His game is tremendous. He's an incredible competitor.

"I'm happy we had some epic battles over the years and of course it would be unreal to play here. I think both of us would never have thought we would be here playing in the finals."

- PA Sports

Rafael NadalRoger Federeraustralian open