Photo by Associated Press.
Originally Published: January 26, 2017 12:44 a.m.
MELBOURNE, Australia — Another Roger vs. Rafa final is still in the mix at an Australian Open with an almost retro vibe.
They’re on opposite sides of the draw, and each is a semifinal win away from a classic showdown at Melbourne Park, where Roger Federer is bidding for an 18th major title, and where Rafael Nadal is targeting his 15th.
Nadal saved six set points in the second set against one of the best servers in the business on Wednesday, beating third-ranked Milos Raonic 6-4, 7-6 (7), 6-4.
With that, he earned a spot in the semifinals at a Grand Slam for the first time since winning the French Open in 2014. He’ll next play 25-year-old Grigor Dimitrov, the only player in the last quartet who has yet to turn 30.
Federer and No. 4 Stan Wawrinka will contest an all-Swiss semifinal the night before Nadal returns to Rod Laver Arena to play Dimitrov. Having three 30-somethings in the semifinals equals the Open era-mark set in 1968 at Roland Garros. There’s also three 30-something women in the semifinals.
Nadal didn’t want to overcomplicate matters and talk about generational things. He didn’t want to think too far ahead to a final, or to Baby Fed — as Dimitrov has been dubbed for his similar backhand and style — while he savored his quarterfinal win.
“Let me enjoy today, the victory, being in semifinal,” the 30-year-old Spaniard said. “For me, is great news again. Is a good start of the season.
“Now I have a very tough match against Dimitrov.”
Dimitrov has lost seven of his eight matches against Nadal, but the 2014 Wimbledon semifinalist is growing in confidence after winning the Brisbane International title at the start of the month after a period in the tennis doldrums.
“In order to win a slam, there’s no shortcut,” the Bulgarian said. “If you think about it, I mean, when have you seen an easy semifinal or something like that? You got to work for it. I have to fight.”
Federer and Nadal, who dominated the sport for so long until the emergence of Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, know that more than most. Both are returning from extended injury layoffs and showing signs that the time off has worked. The 35-year-old Federer was out for six months resting his left knee since a semifinal exit at Wimbledon. He hasn’t won a major since Wimbledon in 2012 but has reached three finals since then.
Nadal is coming back from a couple months off with an injured left wrist, and he has been building momentum. His wins over Alexander Zverev and Gael Monfils in the third and fourth rounds gave him confidence, and his quarterfinal victory over Raonic, who beat him two weeks ago in Brisbane, highlighted his rapid improvement.
Four-time Australian Open champion Federer has come through some matches on the other side of the draw, too, beating Grand Slam finalists Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori in the third and fourth rounds and overwhelming Mischa Zverev in the quarterfinals only two nights after the German had ousted top-ranked Murray from the tournament.
If not for Nadal, Federer may have won many more majors. The muscular left-hander has beaten Federer in six of their eight Grand Slam final meetings and has a 23-11 record overall, including big victories in Australia in the 2009 final and in the semifinals in 2012 and ‘14. But he recognizes the Swiss star as the undisputed most successful player in the modern game.
“What happens on the other side of the draw, I think is great for tennis that Roger is there again after an injury, after a lot of people talk about always the same things, that probably he will never be back,” Nadal said. “The real thing is that he’s back and he’s probably ready to win again, fighting again to win a major. And that’s good for the fans because Roger is a legend of our sport.
“I am happy to be there, too. I am focused on my semifinals.”