Gritty Nadal beats Federer

Rafael Nadal celebrates after defeating Roger Federer during their singles semifinal at the...

Rafael Nadal celebrates after defeating Roger Federer during their singles semifinal at the Australian Open in Melbourne on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2012. (REUTERS/Daniel Munoz)

SPORTS NETWORK

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

MELBOURNE - Two of the all-time greats did battle in a Grand Slam event once again on Thursday, and once again it was Rafael Nadal beating his fellow former world No. 1 star Roger Federer, this time in the Australian Open semifinals.

The second-seeded Nadal secured a berth in his second Aussie Open final in four years with a 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 come-from-behind victory over the third-seeded Federer at Melbourne Park.

Nadal's opponent in Sunday's final will be world No. 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic or 2010 and 2011 Aussie runner-up Andy Murray, the fortnight's fourth seed. Djokovic-Murray will get underway at 3:30 a.m. ET on Friday.

The gritty Nadal broke Federer to go up 5-4 in the fourth set, and eventually converted on his second match point in the next game.

The elegant Swiss saved the first match point when Nadal swatted a backhand wide, but the Spanish strongman converted on his second when Federer sailed one final forehand beyond the baseline at Rod Laver Arena.

The match ended in 3 hours, 42 minutes, as Nadal tallied twice as many service breaks (6-3), while Federer piled up 29 more unforced errors (63-34) and five double faults. Federer struck 11 aces in a losing cause.

Federer saved a set point in the 11th game of the third stanza and would force a tiebreak. But the sweet-swinging Swiss committed three unforced errors in the extra session to give Nadal a seemingly comfortable 6-1 lead. The masher from Mallorca eventually won the set on his last opportunity of five set points.

"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 alright, so it's OK."

The match was suspended for 10 minutes late in the second set for an Australia Day fireworks display, and it seemed to affect Federer. Nadal was leading 5-2 in the second frame, and Federer dropped his serve in the next game to give the Spaniard the set. The Swiss great wound up dropping 11 points in a row at one point.

"It's tough, it's not helpful, that's for sure," Federer said of the fireworks break. "They told us before, so it was no surprise. But I knew it was a lot of points in a row that I lost."

Nadal injured his right knee two weeks ago and wasn't sure if he'd be able to play in Melbourne.

"If you tell me that two Sundays ago, I really cannot imagine," Nadal said. "For me, it's a dream to be back in a final of the Australian Open."

The 25-year-old Nadal and 30-year-old Federer met for a 27th time, and the fiery Spaniard now holds a lopsided 18-9 lifetime advantage, including an 8-2 mark in Grand Slam matchups. Nadal has now won their last five Grand Slam meetings.

Nadal also beat his great rival, in five sets, in the 2009 Aussie Open finale.

The powerful southpaw Nadal and Federer were in the same half of the draw at a major for the first time since 2005. The two superstars have met in a men's record eight major finals, with Nadal winning six of them.

Nadal is a 10-time major champ and the reigning French Open titlist. Federer, who appeared in his 30th Grand Slam semifinal, is a men's record 16-time Grand Slam winner, including a men's Open Era record-tying four Aussie championships.

Federer, who hasn't won a Grand Slam event since titling here in Melbourne two years ago, had yet to drop a set at this latest Aussie fortnight before running into the determined Nadal.

The iconic Federer appeared in his ninth straight Aussie semi.

Nadal will now appear in his 67th career ATP-level final (46-20). He's 10-4 in Grand Slam finals, including a 1-2 mark last year.

On Friday, the good friends Djokovic and Murray, both 24 years old, will meet in a rematch of last year's Aussie title tilt, which was won easily in straight sets by the mighty Serb. The three-time Grand Slam runner-up Murray has appeared in the last two finals in Melbourne, as he lost to Federer here two years ago.

Djokovic is 6-4 lifetime against Britain's Murray, with their lone Grand Slam meeting coming in last year's finale here. The Serb is 3-0 when they've met in semifinals of a tournament.

The capable Murray, who was a titlist in Brisbane three weeks ago, is still seeking his first-ever major title.

The reigning Aussie Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open titlist Djokovic is a four-time major champion who has won two of the last four Aussie Open titles. He has won 37 of his last 39 Grand Slam matches and is seeking a third straight major title. A championship this week would put him in select company, as only four players -- Laver, Pete Sampras, Federer and Nadal -- have captured three straight Grand Slam titles in the Open Era (since 1968).

Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have combined to win seven of the last eight Aussie Open championships.

Sunday's big winner will collect more than $2.4 million.


Videos

Photos