Australian Open - Nadal downs Federer in thriller

Thu, 26 Jan 12:47:00 2012

Rafael Nadal came from behind to topple great rival Roger Federer 6-7(5) 6-2 7-6(5) 6-4 in an enthralling Australian Open semi-final.

Rafael Nadal of Spain celebrates winning a point against Roger Federer of Switzerland during their men's singles semi-final match at the Australian Open - 0

Like so many of their battles over the years, their 27th clash was a feast of shot-making, with exhilaration and suspense served up in equal measure under the lights of a heaving Rod Laver Arena.

Amid an atmosphere more akin to a football match, Nadal's brute force triumphed over the Swiss's artistry as he captured the decisive break at 4-4 in the fourth set and closed it out on the second match point when Federer blasted a forehand long.

With raucous cheers ringing from the stands, Nadal tossed his gear at his chair after victory and slid out on to the blue centre court on his knees, leaning back to gaze at the night sky.

"It's always a pleasure being on this court," the world number two said in a courtside interview.

"It's an honour to play Roger. It was a fantastic match.

"It's just amazing to have one player in front of you who has no mistakes and a totally complete game."

Hlts Nadal - Federer

Third seed Federer, just shaded on a night of high drama, had his chances to overhaul the Spaniard in the tension-charged fourth set but missed a break point when leading 4-3 and another two as Nadal served out the match.

The loss was Federer's second to Nadal on Rod Laver Arena, where he wept bitter tears after losing a five-set classic for the 2009 title.

"All of my career all I wanted to do was keep learning because there was one player in front of me," said Nadal who sealed victory in three hours and 42 minutes.

"If you told me that two Sundays ago (I would be here) I couldn't imagine it. For me it's a dream to be back in the final."

Federer made a blistering start to the match, snatching an early break in just the second game with consecutive backhand cross court winners. Nadal eased his way into things, breaking back in the seventh game with a backhand passing shot winner across court, a tactic that paid dividends for the Spaniard throughout the match.

But Federer managed to recover the momentum before stepping things up a notch in the tie-break and sealing the set with a huge forehand that the Spaniard could only return long.

The world number three looked set to maintain that dominance through into the second set when he broke in the opening game, only for Nadal to peg him back once again; breaking backing immediately after successive backhand errors from Federer.

Nadal broke again in the sixth game of the set, a backhand passing shot winner that he drilled across court from two metres outside the tramlines setting him on his way, before a 10 minute break for the traditional Australia Day fireworks.

Both players left the court during the break but while Nadal came back out firing on all cylinders, Federer re-emerged a shadow of his former self, dropping 11 straight points from the re-start including a break to love that allowed Nadal to seal the second set.

The third set was a cagey affair with the two players trading breaks in the seventh and eighth games, before Federer survived a tough 12th game and a break point to force another breaker.

This time Nadal ran away with proceedings, earning himself five set points, albeit only managing to take advantage of the last when he finally found a quality first serve.

The fourth set was similarly tight but Nadal appeared in control, holding with ease while pushing Federer to deuce and break points on more than one occasion.

And eventually that pressure told on the normally indefatigable Federer, who pulled a backhand wide across court to lose his serve in the ninth game and leave the Spaniard serving for the match.

The 2009 champion at Melbourne Park looked nervous serving for the match, hitting a backhand wide down the line before handing Federer break-back points.

Within touching distance of victory, however, Nadal three times denied Federer the chance to prolong the match, and book his place in the final at the second attempt when the Swiss player hit a return long.

Nadal will bid for his second title at Melbourne Park against top seed Novak Djokovic or fourth seed Andy Murray, who meet in the second semi-final on Friday.

"I think both players are playing fantastic. I think my advice to Andy is to be aggressive, but my advice isn't very good because I lost the last six times against (Djokovic)," quipped the Spaniard.

Australian Open†: Press co

Reuters / Eurosport

Not already a Yahoo! user ? to get a free Yahoo! Account