TV networks and tournament organisers got their wish. Rafael Nadal will play long-time rival Roger Federer in the Australian Open final.
Nadal outlasted 15th seed Grigor Dimitrov in a marathon five setter, going nearly five hours, 6-3 5-7 7-6 6-7 6-4.
Nadal reaches his first slam final since winning the last of his nine French Open titles in 2014. And will face Federer in a slam final for the first time in six years. The pair has combined for 31 majors.
And with Venus and Serena Williams to square off in the women’s final Saturday, tournament director Craig Tiley probably can’t believe his luck.
In what proved to be the match of the tournament, Dimitrov left no stone unturned. He gave everything he had and could easily have folded when down a set and then down two sets to one. But he showed tremendous resilience, which should be the launching pad to a career-best season to come.
The opening set had the least amount of intensity as both players were easing into the match. Nadal broke Dimitrov’s serve in the fourth game and closed it out in 35 minutes.
The tension lifted in the second. Dimitrov got a break up in game four but later on in the set, both players exchanged breaks on double faults.
Dimitrov failed to serve out the set at 5-3 and then blew four set points when Nadal was serving to stay in it at 4-5. However, two games later, Dimitrov didn’t drop his shoulders and converted on the fifth set point when Nadal sent a backhand long.
The pair exchanged breaks in the middle of the third and then there was a delay towards the end of the set after a spectator in the crowd needed medical attention. Nadal never trailed in the tie-break, which he took 7-5.
Dimitrov again, didn’t throw in the towel, when he might have in the past. The 25 year old Bulgarian was looking to get into his first ever major final. With no break points in set four, it required a tiebreak. Dimitrov won it 7-4 to level the affair for a second time and force a decider.
By now, everyone on Rod Laver Arena knew they were staying past midnight but it was worth it because they were witnessing an instant classic.
The ninth seeded Spaniard saved a pair of break points in game eight of the fifth and broke Dimitov in the very next game with a sensational backhand winner down the line.
Nadal served it out at 5-4 but only on a third match point. Dimitrov was as rugged and gritty in the last few points as he was in the early exchanges
It was a bruising and gruelling affair with plenty of long rallied. No player wanted to lose. It was exhausting just to watch, but equally gripping.
Nadal will have to rest up before Sunday’s final. But he’s been here before. In 2009, he beat Fernando Verdasco in an equally physical and absorbing five-setter. And he followed that up with another five set win two days later against Federer.
For the record, it was the first slam since the 2011 French Open where both men’s semis went to five sets.
Nadal leads Federer 6-2 in slam finals and 23-11 overall. May the best man win!