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Watch highlights as Rafael Nadal beats Grigor Dimitrov in a five-set thriller to set an Australian Open final clash with Roger Federer. Photo: Getty Images. Video Courtesy Tennis Australia.
Henri Kontinen and John Peers line up in their first major final against Bob and Mike Bryan, who will contest their 30th Grand Slam final.
It's true that once the Australian Open draw was made, there was a possibility for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal to meet in the final. And while it was a possibility hardly whispered on social media, as the fortnight went on and the Swiss star beat Stan Wawrinka to reach the championship match, all eyes were on the Spaniard to make that possibility a reality. He did just that, defeating Grigor Dimitrov in five sets to set a 35th meeting with Federer, the trophy in Melbourne on the line.
Here's what social media had to say once a "Fedal" final came to fruition:
Fasten your seat belts RAFA vs ROGER final is back #AusOpen— Juan Monaco (@picomonaco) January 27, 2017
It will be Rafael Nadal against Roger Federer in the Australian Open final after the Spaniard withstood a gritty performance from Grigor Dimitrov to prevail 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-4 in an exhilarating contest on Friday night in the semi-finals at Melbourne Park.
It was an emotional victory for the 30-year-old Nadal, who is through to his first Grand Slam final since winning the 2014 Roland Garros crown – his 14th major triumph. It will be his fourth final appearance at Melbourne Park, having lifted the trophy in 2009, beating Federer in a dramatic five-set finale, and finished runner-up in 2012 (l. to Djokovic) and 2014 (l. to Wawrinka).
"It was a fantastic match. Very emotional," said Nadal. "I think Grigor played great. I played great. So was a great quality of tennis tonight. For me, it is amazing to be through to a final of a Grand Slam again here in Australia at the start of the year. Means a lot to me. I feel the love of the people here. They give me a lot of positive energy.
Sunday evening on Rod Laver Arena will mark the first Nadal-Federer contest since the 2015 Basel final and their 35th battle overall. Nadal leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 23-11, winning five of their past six meetings. It will be the first time since the 2011 Roland Garros final, which Nadal won, that they have contested a Grand Slam championship.
#Fedal is happening!
Watch Andrey Rublev cover the entire court to earn hot shot honours against fellow #NextGenATP star Duckhee Lee at the Rennes Challenger.
After an outstanding finish to his 2016 season on the ATP Challenger Tour, American #NextGenATP star Michael Mmoh is picking up where he left off.
The 19 year old is competing at this week’s $75,000 event in Maui, Hawaii, and has shown the results of his hard work during the off-season. Mmoh fought through tough three-set matches against eighth seed Vasek Pospisil of Canada and fellow American Tommy Paul to reach the quarter-finals. He’ll take on another #NextGen ATP star on Friday when he faces second seed Hyeon Chung of Korea.
“I didn’t have the best of weeks at the Australian Open. I could have done a lot better and played a lot better,” said Mmoh, referring to his first-round exit in Melbourne. “But I like the conditions here and it doesn’t get much better than being in Hawaii, so hopefully I can have a good week here.”
Mmoh has jumped more than 175 spots in the Emirates ATP Rankings due to his solid results in U.S. Challengers over the past four months. He reached his first Challenger final this past October in Tiburon, California, then picked up his first Challenger title the following month on the indoor hard courts of Knoxville, Tennessee.
The American finished 2016 inside the Top 200, but has plans to climb much higher than that this year. Mmoh also has his sights on the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan and wants to continue establishing himself as a rising star in the sport.
“My goal for 2017 is to finish inside the Top 100 and hopefully make the Next Gen ATP Finals,” he said. “That’s definitely one of the goals for any of the guys under 21 that can compete and it’s something we’re all working towards.”
His results during last year's three-tournament indoor swing on U.S. soil were good enough to win the USTA Pro Circuit wild card challenge, earning him a main draw berth into the first Grand Slam of the year. Mmoh said that ending his year on a high note allowed him to approach his off-season training at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, with renewed purpose.
“I gained a lot of confidence from my results. It was a big bonus having that going into my off-season and I think my time was more productive because of it,” said Mmoh. "I tried to work on being more aggressive on the court, stepping forward and going for my shots. Whether it’s the serve, forehand, backhand, just trying to be more aggressive in all aspects.”
Ninth seed Rafael Nadal and No. 15 seed Grigor Dimitrov have displayed different forms of perseverance to reach the Australian Open semi-finals and put themselves in position to become the last man standing in Melbourne.
Both men take the court on Friday night for their semi-final showdown. Nadal has so far dominated their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 7-1, but Dimitrov won their most recent encounter this past October in the quarter-finals in Beijing.
“He’s a player that has been on the tour for a lot of years already. He’s a player that has unbelievable talent and potential. He started the season playing unbelievable,” said Nadal. “It’s going to be a tough match for me. I’m going to try and play my best because I know he’s playing with high confidence.”
After spending most of 2016 battling a wrist injury that cut his season short in October, Nadal has started off 2017 producing the top form he’s come to expect from himself. He opened the year with a quarter-final showing in Brisbane, where he narrowly lost to Milos Raonic, but has truly come alive in Melbourne.
After surviving a five-set marathon in the third round against #NextGenATP star Alexander Zverev, the Spaniard appeared even more energised in his following wins over sixth seed Gael Monfils and third seed Raonic. Most importantly, Nadal's wrist has been holding up through the tough matches.
“It’s good news, especially winning against difficult players: Monfils quarter-finals, Zverev round of 16, and now Raonic. That's very important for me because that means that I am competitive and playing well,” said Nadal. “I’m just excited about being back in the final rounds of the most important events. I fought and worked hard to try to make that happen. It’s a special thing for me, especially here in Australia."
Nadal is looking to win his second title in Melbourne, having previously lifted the winner’s trophy in 2009 (d. October). If he defeats Dimitrov, he would equal Novak Djokovic in second place on the all-time list for most Grand Slam finals reached.
Grand Slam Finals Reached (All-Time)Player No. of Grand Slam Finals Roger Federer 28 Novak Djokovic
Should he prevail in the final, Nadal would win his 15th Grand Slam and come in second on the all-time list, surpassing Pete Sampras and only trailing Roger Federer (17).
Meanwhile, Dimitrov’s story is also one of overcoming difficult moments. After falling to No. 40 in the Emirates ATP Rankings this past July, Dimitrov has turned his form around and is now arguably playing the best tennis of his career. The Bulgarian is now on a 10-match win streak, having prevailed earlier this moth in Brisbane. He has also already scored three Top 10 wins this season by beating Raonic, Kei Nishikori and Dominic Thiem.
“I don't think there was one particular moment where it was, ‘Oh, wow, now I'm starting to play good again.’ I think I just keep doing the things that I was doing, what I was believing in,” said Dimitrov. “I never felt that I was doing something wrong. I just felt that I was not playing and practising well, not doing the right things. But with the right set of people, things started to slowly move forward for me. Now I think I'm in a good place.”
Dimitrov has always had the tools to become one of the elite players in the sport, but he’s now been putting them together match after match. Perhaps the best example of his improved form this tournament is his quarter-final victory over No. 11 seed David Goffin, in which he racked up 33 winners and 15 break point chances.
“I think I'm taking better decisions when I come out on the court, in terms of points or how I'm going to play certain players or how I'm going to prepare before my matches,” said Dimitrov. “I think my focus has been good. The mentality has been there. I've been present when I'm playing my matches. Just fighting. I keep on fighting. I have a good spirit on the court, being positive.”
Should Dimitrov defeat Nadal, he would reach his first Grand Slam final on his 26th attempt, tying him at ninth on the list for most attempts before reaching a Grand Slam final alongside Albert Costa and Andrei Medvedev.
Number of Attempts Before Reaching First Grand Slam FinalDavid Ferrer 42 Stan Wawrinka 36 Kim Warwick 32 Marin Cilic 29 Tomas Berdych 28 Andres Gomez
MaliVai Washington 27
27 Albert Costa
Andrei Medvedev 26
He would also become the first Bulgarian player, man or woman, to reach a Grand Slam final. But while the accomplishment would be historic for Bulgarian tennis, the 25 year old has made it clear that he won’t be content to finish runner-up.
“I feel like I have all the tools to go further, and my job isn't over yet,” said Dimitrov. “I'm looking forward to my match on Friday. I think I'm prepared. I think I'm ready to go the distance.”
Stan Wawrinka, a three-time Grand Slam champion, has moved past the stage of moral victories at big-time tournaments. But the Swiss star is not above giving due credit to his opponent.
The 31 year old lavished praise on his countryman Roger Federer after falling 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 4-6, 6-3 in the Australian Open semi-finals on Thursday. Wawrinka called Federer “the best player ever” and said Federer “can do anything he wants on the court.”
“He's an amazing player to watch and to see on the court. He's flying on the court. He's playing amazing tennis,” Wawrinka said.
The Lausanne native was trying to reach his second Australian Open final and his fourth Grand Slam final overall. He fell to 0-14 against Federer on hard courts and 3-19 against him during their overall FedEx ATP Head2Head series. All of Wawrinka's Head2Head wins have come on clay.
“I don't know what to say. I cannot just be happy to win two sets against Roger. I just lost a five-set match in the semi-final of the Australian Open... I'm proud of myself, of the fight I give tonight and all the tournament. I think there is a lot of positive from this tournament, from Brisbane, from the month already,” Wawrinka said. “For sure I'm really sad and disappointed with a loss like that because to be that close to have won a semi-final, it can be only sad. But at the end I know I tried everything on the court. I came from two sets down. I changed completely the momentum.”
The five-set battle, which lasted more than three hours, was Wawrinka's closest Grand Slam hard-court match against Federer. During their two other hard-court meetings at Grand Slams, Federer won both matches – 2011 Australian Open QF, 2015 US Open SF – in straight sets.
“At the end I had a great battle against Roger. He's great fighter. He's always been amazing in a Grand Slam, in a five-set match. I'm for sure sad to lose a match like that,” Wawrinka said. “But I know there is a lot of positive.”
With his semi-final finish, Wawrinka will climb to No. 3 in the Emirates ATP Rankings when the new rankings are released on Monday.
The 35-year-old Swiss superstar, who recently returned to top-level tennis after a six-month injury lay-off, booked a spot in his 28th Grand Slam final with a 7-5, 6-3, 1-6, 4-6, 6-3 victory over his compatriot Stan Wawrinka, the 2014 titlist and fourth seed. Federer will now compete for his fifth crown in his sixth Australian Open final on Sunday night, when he will attempt to become the first No. 17 seed to win a major since Pete Sampras won the final professional match of his career at the 2002 US Open.
Federer, who is now 86-13 at the Australian Open, would take a 5-0 advantage over No. 15 seed Dimitrov into his 28th Grand Slam championship final (17-8 record). But he trails 14-time major winner and 2009 champion Nadal 11-23 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series. Dimitrov and Nadal contest their semi-final on Friday night.
“I know I will have a chance to win on Sunday now,” said Federer. “That's a great position to be in. Regardless of who it's going to be against, I think it's going to be special either way. One is going to go for his first Slam or it's the epic battle with Rafa. All I care about is that I can win on Sunday. It doesn't matter who's across the net. But I understand the magnitude of the match against Nadal, no doubt about it.”
Federer will re-enter the Top 10 in the Emirates ATP Rankings at No. 10 should he lift the trophy on Sunday. He is looking to become the second oldest player in the Open Era to win a Grand Slam crown after Australian’s Ken Rosewall, who won 3 Grand Slam titles after turning 35. Rosewall won the 1970 US Open (aged 35 years, 315 days) and the Australian Open in 1971 (36 years, 73 days) and 1972 (37 years, 62 days). Federer has not reached a major final since September 2015 at the US Open (l. to Djokovic) and not won a major title since July 2012 at Wimbledon (d. Murray).
Wawrinka said, “I'm proud of myself, of the fight I gave tonight and all the tournament. I think there is a lot of positives from this tournament, from Brisbane, from the month [of January] already. I'm really sad and disappointed with a loss like this… I had a great battle against Roger. He's a great fighter. He's always been amazing in Grand Slams, in five-set matches.”
Federer applied early pressure, forcing Wawrinka to recover from 0/40 on serve at 1-2 - Infosys ATP Scores & Stats indicates Wawrinka did so on nine of 26 occasions in 2016. Although Federer came through his own test, from 15/40 in the next game, he did do a good job of keeping Wawrinka off-balance by varying the direction of his groundstrokes. Federer survived a break point at 5-5, 30/40 and was soon gifted two straight errors from Wawrinka to take the 50-minute opener.
In the second set, Wawrinka went into meltdown at 2-3 when two errors saw his serve get broken – as well as a racquet – to give Federer full control of their 22nd meeting. Although Wawrinka continued to battle, he left the court close to tears at the end of the second set. The 31 year old would now need to come back from an 0-2 sets deficit for the seventh time in his career.
With strapping just below his right knee, following an off-court medical time-out, Wawrinka took his first tentative steps. Initially slow to move off his right leg, he grew in confidence and broke Federer’s serve with a forehand winner for a 3-1 advantage. Federer’s intensity dropped and two more breaks soon followed for Wawrinka. In a run of six games, Wawrinka led 1-0 in the fourth set.
Although Federer broke back immediately for 1-1, fast forward to 4-4 and he was in big trouble at 0/40. Federer saved two break points with well-directed serves, but terrific movement from Wawrinka at 30/40 enabled him to flick a forehand crosscourt winner to break. The capacity crowd, including Rod Laver, were left stunned as the match went to a fifth and deciding set. Federer took the time to leave the court for treatment.
“I felt tightness [in my leg] throughout the match, and I felt like it slowed me down,” said Federer. “I just hoped that maybe having the physio work on it, that it would make me feel better. But it didn't. It's not something I'm necessarily really worried about in any way. So that's a good thing.”
Wawrinka narrowly missed a forehand down the line at 1-1, 30/40, with Federer in a perilous position at the net. Wawrinka then recovered from 0/30 in the next game, before missing another break point at 2-2. When Wawrinka struck a mid-court backhand long at 2-3, 15/30, the match turned in Federer’s favour. Federer was not to be denied and, having closed out the match to love, he will now play his 100th match at the Australian Open against Nadal or Dimitrov in Sunday's final.
“No, I didn't feel more pressure,” said Wawrinka, when asked about the sixth game of the fifth set. “The game was really quick. New balls. He made two good returns to be 15/30. Then he put me under pressure. I made a bad choice [a backhand, then] a double-fault, and you're down a break in the fifth.
“[My injury has] been for sure an issue since the beginning of the tournament. Then again, it's not an excuse at all. I always try to fight on the court, to find a solution. I made the semi-finals. I had the chance to win tonight [and] I had some opportunities in the fifth set… I gave everything.”
Federer, who is now 19-3 lifetime against Wawrinka (and a winner in all of their hard-court meetings), hit 47 winners, including 11 aces. He also converted four of his nine break point opportunities for victory in three hours and four minutes. Wawrinka, who saw his 12-match winning streak at Grand Slams come to an end, went 4/12 on break points, but went 56/86 on first serve points in comparison to 62/86 for Federer.
Rafael Nadal and Grigor Dimitrov look forward to competing in the Australian Open semi-finals on Friday. Nadal leads 7-1 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.
Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan are closing in on equalling the all-time Grand Slam championship doubles titles’ record, currently held by Australia’s John Newcombe, who won 17 team majors during his career. The American twins are tied with Roy Emerson and Todd Woodbridge with 16 titles.
The American twins booked a spot in their 30th major championship final (16-13) and 10th Australian Open title match (6-3) on Thursday after the third seeds hit 31 winners past Spaniards Pablo Carreno Busta and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in a 7-6(1), 6-3 victory over 90 minutes.
The Bryans will now meet fourth seeds Henri Kontinen and John Peers in Saturday’s doubles final. Kontinen and Peers beat the Bryans 7-6(2), 6-4 in the semi-finals of the 2016 ATP Finals at The O2 in London, which they went on to win.
Kontinen and Peers ended the giant-killing run of Melbourne-based wild cards Marc Polmans and Andrew Whittington 6-4, 6-4 in 77 minutes. The Finnish-Australian tandem committed just eight unforced errors and won 35 of their 41 first service points.
“It was great to make our first [Grand Slam] final here together in Australia,” said Peers. “It means a lot to me being in Australia. The next match is going to be another tough one, so hopefully we can repeat that performance.”
A longtime staple of the ATP Challenger Tour has returned to the circuit after a one-year hiatus. With former player and 37-time Challenger doubles winner Rik de Voest at the helm, the Odlum Brown VanOpen is back at the prestigious Hollyburn Country Club.
Nestled on the southern edge of the Coast Mountains in southwestern Canada, with Vancouver Harbour adorning the horizon, the multi-million dollar sports club is a symbol of opulence and for many players on the ATP Challenger Tour it has been a home away from home. The state-of-the-art facility, featuring 25 tennis courts – hard, clay and grass – is rivaled only by the world-class hospitality of its staff.
For 11 years, the Odlum Brown VanOpen was brought to the forefront of the ATP Challenger Tour under the attentive guidance of tournament director Floyd Hill. Following Hill's departure last year, to pursue other interests, the $100,000 event was in search of a new leader. De Voest is eager to take up the responsibility. Having played his last professional event in Vancouver in 2014, nine years after meeting his wife there, the tournament is close to the South African's heart.
"I am very excited to form part of the team reviving the Odlum Brown VanOpen," said De Voest. "I believe bringing world-class tennis back to Vancouver provides great inspiration to the young players who aspire to compete on the ATP World Tour one day. As a past player and having played in many Challenger events, I can honestly say that the Odlum Brown VanOpen was one of the most impressive tournaments in the world. It provides top-class facilities, amazing player accommodation, fantastic crowd support and attracts some of the best players in the world, including future World No. 1s."[ALSO LIKE]
The tournament's unyielding dedication to providing players with top-notch hospitality and amenities made it such an attractive Challenger destination throughout the years, earning the respect of many players. Dudi Sela enjoyed the most success of any player to step through the doors at Hollyburn, posting a staggering 23-1 record including four titles. The Israeli, who claimed the inaugural edition in 2005 and won again in 2008, 2010 and 2015, is one of just five players to capture four titles at a single tournament on the ATP Challenger Tour.
“Vancouver is my favourite tournament,” Sela told ATPWorldTour.com. “I played five times and won four titles. It's a really nice tournament. The city is great, the people who run it are really nice and it's organised really well. Most of the players stay in housing, so we stayed with the tournament doctor. I keep in touch with him and he's come to Israel to visit. We talk a lot on the phone.
“For sure I'm going to go there again and visit the city and the people. Last year there was an Israeli coach and I felt at home. Every night I was going to dinner in a different house. At most other tournaments you are in hotels but not there.”
Born in nearby Vernon, Canada, Vasek Pospisil won the Vancouver title in 2013 after reaching the semi-finals two years prior. The former World No. 25 has fond memories of his local tournament.“Vancouver is such a special event in so many ways," said Pospisil. "It was the nicest Challenger event that I had ever played and the organisers really knew how to take care of the players and the fans. It was also my home tournament and it was the one where I played my first professional match when I was 15, so I have many great memories from the event.”
Operated in conjunction with Tennis Canada, the Odlum Brown VanOpen thrived in its late-summer slot on the ATP Challenger Tour. In 2015, three former Top 10 players – Ernests Gulbis, Radek Stepanek and Jurgen Melzer – competed in the main draw, which was the most at a Challenger event since 2010.
“I have great memories from Vancouver,” said Marcos Baghdatis, who made two trips to Vancouver and left with a perfect 10-0 record, lifting the trophy in both 2009 and 2014. “It's one of the best Challengers I ever played. I won it twice. Every time I went there and played on the centre court it was packed. It was a nice feeling and the fans are great. I stayed there twice with two different families. They have housing in Vancouver and both of the families were very nice. It is a beautiful city to stay in and experience in my life.”
In years past, the tournament was treated like an ATP World Tour event, providing items such as an exclusive lounge on site, private cars and free housing with local families – luxuries that they intended to reflect the Rogers Cup. De Voest is happy to carry on the tradition of excellence.
"When I first heard about the possibility of the event being brought back, I said I would be happy to assist. I was then approached to be the Tournament Director and was humbled at the request as it is an honour and privilege to manage an event with such a great reputation. I look forward to meeting the challenge and making the 2017 Odlum Brown VanOpen one of the best ever."January 23, 2017
Watch highlights of Australian wild cards Marc Polmans and Andrew Whittington advancing to the 2017 Australian Open doubles semi-finals by beating Frenchmen Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Video courtesy Tennis Australia. Getty Images photo.
Greek teen Stefanos Tsitsipas closed out his Rennes Challenger qualifying match with a bang, soaring for hot shot honours to secure a spot in the main draw.
Much like their tennis careers have evolved over the years, so, too, has Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka's friendship. Years ago, Wawrinka would frequently ask his compatriot for tips on how to play certain guys. Federer would kindly oblige, and Wawrinka would execute the game plans that Federer shared.
“That showed me that he's a great player, that he's got a mind of somebody who understands what I'm trying to explain to him,” Federer said after his Australian Open quarter-final win. “Some players, you tell them something, they've just got no clue what to do, what it means. Stan had that early on, so I think he was a great learner.”
Years passed, Federer kept hauling titles, but Wawrinka also improved. Eventually, around 2011, Federer's phone rang less and less.
“Then the day came where he didn't call me so much any more... I also felt like I didn't [need to] tell him any more, because he created his knowledge, his base, had his team. Only from time to time would I give him advice if he asked me. Otherwise I was happy that he was able to let go and go on his own path,” Federer said.
Wawrinka did well on his own, eventually winning his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title at the 2014 Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters and three Grand Slam crowns, including the 2014 Australian Open. But the frequent communication between the two underlines how well they know each other and their games as they prepare to face off in Thursday's Australian Open semi-final.
Of the eight players who were in the quarter-finals, Federer said, only Rafael Nadal's knowledge of Federer's game could match Wawrinka's. “Stan and I practised so much together. With Rafa, I only practised once in my life, whereas with Stan, I can't even keep count anymore,” Federer said.
Watch highlights as Rafael Nadal beats Milos Raonic to reach the 2017 Australian Open semi-finals. Video courtesy Tennis Australia. Getty Images photo.
Watch highlights as Grigor Dimitrov beats David Goffin to reach the 2017 Australian Open semi-finals. Video courtesy Tennis Australia. Getty Images photo.
Watch highlights as John Peers and Henri Kontinen reach the semi-finals of the 2017 Australian Open. Video courtesy Tennis Australia. Getty Images photo.
Fourth seeds Henri Kontinen and John Peers reached their first Grand Slam semi-final together on Wednesday night at the Australian Open as they defeated Sam Groth and Chris Guccione 7-5, 6-3 on Rod Laver Arena.
Kontinen and Peers, who finished 2016 with back-to-back titles at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris and the ATP Finals in London, are bidding to win their first major title. The Finnish/Australian duo has dropped only one set on their route through to the semi-finals, beating Groth and Guccione in 64 minutes with only nine points dropped on serve.
Peers is looking to reach his third Grand Slam final, having finished runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open with Jamie Murray in 2015. He and Kontinen go on to face Australian wild cards Marc Polmans and Andrew Whittington, who shocked top seeds and 2015 runners-up Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut, 7-6(2), 2-6, 6-4.
In the on-court interview on Margaret Court Arena, the 19-year-old Polmans said, "I’m extremely overwhelmed to be honest. At the start of the week I really didn’t think we’d be in the semi-final of a Grand Slam. To do it in front of my friends and family on Margaret Court Arena is unbelievable.”
Polmans and Whittington have gone on a giant-killing run at Melbourne Park, beating eighth seeds Daniel Nestor and Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the second round and former No. 1 duo Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau in the third round.
What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, Rafael Nadal was digesting a shock five-set loss to Fernando Verdasco in the first round of the Australian Open. Today, after a sublime performance that saw him dismiss World No. 3 Milos Raonic in straight sets, Nadal is through to his first Grand Slam semi-final since winning Roland Garros in 2014.
It’s been a challenging couple of years for Nadal, whose health and injury struggles contributed to a lack of confidence on the court and on the big stages. He came into the 2017 Australian Open having brought his 2016 campaign to a premature end, following a first-round loss to Viktor Troicki at the Shanghai Rolex Masters in October.
Much hard work has taken place since then and the Mallorcan is reaping the rewards, having earned his place in the final four at Melbourne Park after victories over Alexander Zverev, Gael Monfils and Raonic.
“It’s good news, especially winning against difficult players: Monfils quarter-finals, Zverev round of 16, and now Raonic,” said Nadal. “I think all of them are top players. So that's very important for me because that means that I am competitive and playing well.
“I’m just excited about being back in the final rounds of the most important events,” continued the left-hander, who is trying to win his 15th major title. “I am here to try to make this. It’s always difficult, but I fought and I worked hard to try to make that happen.
“I’m very happy that after a lot of work I am in this round again. It’ a special thing for me, especially here in Australia. I have been playing and competing very well during the whole event. That's very important for me.”
Nadal goes forward to a semi-final clash with Grigor Dimitrov, a clash he is certainly not taking lightly – “He's a player that has an unbelievable talent, unbelievable potential. He started the season playing unbelievable. Is going to be a very tough match for me.” – but the question on many fans' lips is: Will we see another Roger Federer - Rafael Nadal final?
The famous rivalry has not taken to the court since the 2015 Basel final, which Federer won in three sets, and not in a Grand Slam final since the 2011 Roland Garros championship match, which Nadal won in four sets. The pair contested the Australian Open final in 2009, with Nadal famously consoling a tearful Federer after prevailing in five sets.
Federer is set to face countryman Stan Wawrinka on Thursday after blasting his way through the top half of the draw, taking out Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori and Andy Murray’s conqueror, Mischa Zverev, to return to the semi-finals at Melbourne Park, where he is a four-time former champion. And no one is more pleased than Nadal to see his long-time rival excelling once again, having missed the second half of the 2016 season due to injury.
“Now I have a very tough match against Dimitrov. On the other side of the draw, I think it 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.
“The real thing is that he's back and he's probably ready to win again, fighting again to win a major. That's the real thing, 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 semi-final.”