(See TENN <GO> for Australian Open menu.)
Jan. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer to reach the Australian Open tennis final for the first time since winning the title three years ago and extending his Grand Slam tennis superiority over his Swiss rival.
Nadal, the No. 2 seed from Spain, won 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 at Melbourne Park last night. He now holds an 8-2 lead over Federer, the third seed and winner of a record 16 major championships including four in Australia, at the sport’s four biggest tournaments.
The 30-year-old Federer hasn’t won a Grand Slam title since taking the Australian Open two years ago. He had 63 unforced errors, compared with 34 for Nadal.
“For me it’s a dream to be back here in a final of the Australian Open,” Nadal said in a televised court-side interview.
Nadal, 25, will face top-ranked Novak Djokovic of Serbia or Andy Murray, the No. 4 seed from Britain, for the championship on Jan. 29 in what will be his 15th Grand Slam final. Djokovic and Murray play their semifinal tonight.
Maria Sharapova of Russia and Victoria Azarenka of Belarus won yesterday’s women’s semifinals to advance to the Jan. 28 title match.
In their first major semifinal since the 2005 French Open, Nadal and Federer combined for 82 winners in 276 points played.
“I thought Rafa played well from start to finish,” Federer told reporters. “He always plays a bit better against me than other players.”
Federer took a 4-1 lead in the first set, breaking in Nadal’s first service game. The Spaniard forced his way back to a tiebreaker, which Federer won after missing two set points.
The second set started with two service breaks. Nadal held serve and got another break to make it 5-2 when fireworks for the Australia Day holiday stopped play for 15 minutes. The interruption didn’t help Federer, who dropped his serve.
Nadal took the first game of the third set, then failed to convert a 40-love lead on Federer’s serve. The Swiss right- hander fought back and won with a backhand drop shot. The set stayed on serve until Federer broke with a backhand down the line that Nadal couldn’t return.
Nadal broke straight back and the next four games went with serve to set up a tiebreaker. Nadal went up 6-1 and finally took the set after Federer took four straight points.
“I was very, very nervous at that moment,” Nadal said. “Losing four set points in a row is tough in a tiebreak.”
The fourth set stayed on serve until 4-4, when Nadal went cross court with a forehand to break Federer. Nadal lost one match point and Federer then twice missed chances to tie the set. On Nadal’s second match point, Federer hit a forehand long to end the contest after 3 hours, 42 minutes.
Nadal has beaten Federer 18 of the 27 times they’ve met.
“It’s an honor to play Roger,” Nadal said. “It’s just amazing and fantastic to have one player always in front of you that has a totally complete game. Only thing that I did, all my career, is that I started to keep learning, because I always saw in front of me one player better than me.”
Sharapova, the No. 4 women’s seed from Russia, won the rematch of last year’s Wimbledon final 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 against the second-seeded Kvitova of the Czech Republic.
‘Hung in There’
“I just hung in there and got a few returns in in the last game,” said Sharapova, who took the Australian title in 2008 for her third Grand Slam championship. “Sometimes even if you’re not playing your best tennis you can find a way to win.”
Sharapova, 24, entered the tournament having not played an official tour match since October because of an ankle injury. She converted all five break points against Kvitova, who could only convert three 14 break chances.
Sharapova saved three break points on her serve before taking the opening set in 36 minutes. Kvitova got the only break of the second set in the second game and eventually served out to tie the match.
With the third set at 2-2, Sharapova saved two break points, including a 19-shot rally, letting out a loud cry of “C’mon” when she finally held serve. She was again under pressure in her next service game at 15-40 before holding, took a 5-4 lead after successfully challenging a line call at 0-30 and sealed the victory in the next game when Kvitova made three straight unforced groundstroke errors on her own serve.
First Major Final
Azarenka extended her winning streak to 11 matches in 2012 and reached her first major final by snuffing out Clijsters’s comeback.
“I was just trying to stay in the moment,” Azarenka, 22, said in a televised court-side interview after her 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 victory. “Kim really took over the second set and I felt like there was nothing I could do. I just tried to regroup and keep fighting.”
Azarenka, who won her ninth WTA title in Sydney this month, reached a Grand Slam final for the first time in 25 appearances. She reached the Wimbledon semifinals last year.
The 28-year-old Clijsters, the No. 11 seed from Belgium, had been seeking her fifth major title after adding last year’s Australian Open to three U.S. Open victories.
After dropping the first set, Clijsters won 31 of the 46 points in the second set. The first four games of the third set featured three breaks of serve as Azarenka took a 3-1 lead.
Although Clijsters broke back for 4-3, Azarenka moved within one game the final by getting another break. She had a double fault on her first match point and missed her next first serve before winning a Clijsters backhand error.
“I felt like my hand is about 200 kilograms and my body is about a thousand,” Azarenka said. “That feeling when you finally win is such a relief. I just want to cry.’”
--Editors: Christopher Elser, Larry Siddons.
To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Baynes in Sydney at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at email@example.com