MELBOURNE: Spain’s Rafael Nadal extended his mastery over Roger Federer when he came from a set down to win a gripping Australian Open semi-final 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, 6-4, while Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka set up a fight for both the title and the number one ranking after winning their semi-finals.
In a rematch of the 2009 final, Federer opened like a train but was gradually reeled in by the tenacious Nadal to suffer his fifth straight grand slam defeat to his great rival. The world number two was understandably delighted with his hard-fought victory over the Swiss maestro.
“For me it’s a dream to be back in the final,” said a smiling Nadal. “It’s a real honour to play against Roger, it was a fantastic match. It’s fantastic to have one player in front of you who doesn’t make mistakes, having a totally complete game.
“In my career, all I wanted to do was keep learning because there was one player in front of me. If you told me two Sundays ago I would be here, I couldn’t have imagined it.”
Nadal will now face either defending champion Novak Djokovic or fourth-seed Andy Murray, who play today in the second semi-final, as he looks for his second Australian Open crown.
Sharapova, Azarenka through to final
Meanwhile, former champion Sharapova gained sweet revenge for her Wimbledon final defeat to Petra Kvitova, beating her 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.
Sharapova was delighted to have made it to the final of a major she last won in 2008.
“It means so much to be back in a grand slam final, a stage I’ve been to before a few years ago here,” she said. “I played someone who’s had great results and has beaten me the last couple of times. I just really wanted it today.”
Earlier, Azarenka survived a second-set collapse against defending champion Kim Clijsters to reach her first major title match, outplaying the Belgian 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.
Federer denies frustration at Nadal jinx
Meanwhile, Federer insisted that his dismal record against Nadal did not play on his mind during his marathon encounter with the Spaniard.
Federer has not beaten Nadal in a grand slam since Wimbledon in 2007 and has never come from behind to beat him at a major. The Swiss legend holds a record 16 grand slam titles but the Spanish world number two has a hold over him on the biggest stage, winning eight of their 10 clashes in majors. Federer said that he felt Nadal raised his game in their meetings.
“We’ve had good matches over the years,” he said. “I enjoy playing him. The crowd really gets into it. He always plays better against me than against other players.”
Brave Clijsters proud of final fling
Defending champion Kim Clijsters expressed pride at her battling performance after falling just short of the Australian Open final in her last appearance at Melbourne Park. The Belgian, who is set to retire this season, said she had given her all in her title defence.
“That’s definitely something that I’m proud of, that I was able to fight through tough matches,” said 11th-seed Clijsters, when asked about her performances despite suffering an ankle injury in the fourth round.
“I could’ve been home two days ago but I really gave it 200 per cent. I really don’t feel like I could have done anything differently these last two weeks.”
Published in The Express Tribune, January 27th, 2012.
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