By Alana Mitchelson
(January 24, 2014) MELBOURNE – The world No. 1 Rafael Nadal has his heart set on winning each of the slams twice. Now, after conquering the great Roger Federer in a straight set semifinal clash 7-6(7-4), 6-3, 6-3, only one man stands in his way of that dream becoming a reality and that is Stanislas Wawrinka.
It was a classic semifinal showdown between two of the greatest tennis rivals of the Open Era, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
Nadal played to Federer’s backhand which characteristically seemed to be failing him against the Spaniard, more often than not, on the night. The Swiss made a multitude of errors and his unforced error tally soared to an almost unforgivable total of 50 by the end of the match.
Federer was by no means playing poorly, but found it increasingly difficult to break ahead of his dominating opponent. He played with confidence, committing to his shots, and the crowd reacted in awe of the impeccable accuracy displayed through his groundstrokes which, for the most part, held an impressively low clearance of the net.
The tight first set tie-break seemed to set the momentum for Nadal as he largely dictated play for the remainder of the match thereafter.
“For sure it was very, very important,” Nadal said reflecting upon the match.
“It was decisive to win that first set… a tough first set. So after a few tough rallies at the end of the first set, it was a lot of confidence for me.”
Nadal took a momentary medical timeout to reapply his bandages over his blistering left palm which has been giving him trouble throughout the whole week. The Spaniard, however, maintained that it has not affected his capabilities on court.
“We made the tape a little bit smaller. That helped me.
“The blister today is not a problem anymore for normal life. It is not painful. The problem is to play tennis. The only problem is the position of the blister, the place, because if it is in another place I would have no problem because I don’t feel pain today. Problem is to cover that blister in the position where it is.”
Federer all the while attempted to take advantage of this, pushing the Spaniard out to the wings of the court and playing to his left, dominant hand which was bound with the tape. He managed a break back in the third set, but this minor celebration was short-lived as Nadal wasted no time before surging to the lead once again. Up a break and determined not to allow the match to progress into a fourth set, the Spaniard held to continue his strong head-to-head record against Federer, dismantling the former world No. 1 in straight sets.
Nadal spoke of how his return to the grand final of the Australian Open was a particularly emotional one due to the unfortunate circumstances which had prevented him from participating in the tournament this time last year.
”For me, it’s a very important thing to start the season this way again; winning in Doha, now being in the final of Australia after missing this tournament last year. I come back here and the support of the crowd is just amazing for me.
“Some very emotional moments in the Rod Laver Arena in the past and very emotional moments this year, especially because it is the Grand Slam that I really have had more problems with in my career. In 2006, I didn’t have the chance to play because of the injury to my foot at the end of 2005 in Madrid… in 2010, I think it was against Andy and I had to retire because of a problem in the knee. In 2011, I didn’t want to retire but I had a strain on the muscle in my leg during the third game of the match. And last year I didn’t have a chance to play here.
“A lot of years I didn’t have a chance to play in this tournament that I really love so much… so it’s very special to have the chance to be in the final here again.”
Nadal has been following Wawrinka’s outstanding run at the Australian Open over the past two weeks and is prepared for a challenging final despite being considered the favourite to win.
“He’s a good friend, great guy. So happy for him that he’s in the final, he deserves it. He’s playing better and better every year. He is serving unbelievable, he’s hitting the ball very strong from the baseline very, very quick. It’s very difficult to play against him today. I know it will be a very, very tough match. If I am not able to play my best, I think I will not have a chance because he’s coming to this match with a lot of victories and playing great. He’s playing better than ever.
“It’s not the final that, playing normal, I think I am going to win. I need to play my best.”
Federer shared his thoughts on his fellow Swiss’ chances moving forward into the final on Sunday night against the world No. 1 who, unlike Wawrinka, is no stranger to a Grand Slam final.
“I hope he (Stan) gives everything he has. There’s no reason not to believe he can beat Rafa,” Federer said.
“He’s clearly got a tough record against him, but many players have that. There’s no difference there. Pressure’s clearly on Rafa because he’s got to win this final. Stan’s in his first Grand Slam final, so that makes Stan also unpredictable. He’s got to use that to his advantage.”
Alana Mitchelson is a Melbourne-based freelance journalist covering the Australian Open for Tennis Panorama News. Follow her tournament updates on Twitter @TennisNewsTPN and read her personal website.