• Australian Open, Day 11

Nadal outlasts Federer to reach final

ESPN staff
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Rafael Nadal booked his place in the Australian Open final with a sensational victory over longtime rival Roger Federer.

The world No. 2 shrugged off a sluggish start to complete a 6-7(5) 6-2 7-6(5) 6-4 victory to book his place in his fourth consecutive grand slam final - but his first in Melbourne since 2009.

It is one of the greatest rivalries in sport, and much was expected of the 27th meeting between the pair, and they didn't disappoint as both players battled like every point was match point.

Virtually every rally produced shots which defied belief; fizzing forehand winners, backhand passes threaded through the narrowest of channels and both players reaching returns which seemed impossible.

The last time Nadal played Federer in a grand slam outside of the final was the 2005 French Open, and once again it was Nadal who emerged victorious after a three-hour 42 minute battle on Rod Laver Arena.

But it was Federer, who saw off former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in the quarter-finals, who started the brighter. The 16-time grand slam champion has never beaten Nadal at any major apart from Wimbledon, but he showed every intention of breaking that streak as he raced to a 3-0 lead, clinching the break with an enormous cross-court backhand.

Nadal, who slumped to a 6-3 6-0 defeat to Federer at the ATP World Tour Finals in London at the end of last season, soon began to find his rhythm and he clawed his way back into the set, only for Federer to snatch the opening set on a tiebreak before grabbing an early break to tighten his grip on the match.

But the momentum soon swung back in Nadal's favour, and he responded immediately, breaking back to love before a love service hold to keep himself firmly in the contest. The Spaniard produced flashes of brilliance as turned defence into attack with seamless transition before squeezing a backhand winner down the line past an astonished Federer for the break.

Roger Federer's last grand slam victory game at the 2010 Australian Open © Getty Images
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Nadal moved closer to wrapping up the second set with a purposeful hold, and despite a brief break for the Australia Day firework display, the Spaniard lost no momentum as he continued where he left off, breaking to love to seal the set and level proceedings.

Federer, meanwhile, struggled to maintain his focus after the interruption, and lost 11 consecutive points to find himself facing three break points. However, he soon settled and the Swiss hung on to keep the determined Nadal at bay.

Having survived the onslaught at the start of the third set, it was Federer who drew blood, but his advantage was shortlived as Nadal responded immediately, with the momentum swinging as outrageously as their tit-for-tat rallies. As Federer served to stay in the set, Nadal had a set point, but the Swiss fended him off with a cool backhand.

With nothing to separate the pair, the third set headed for a tiebreak. Nadal threatened to run away with the tiebreak after storming to a 5-1 lead, but needed all five set points before finally clinching the third set.

With Nadal one set away from the final, the Spaniard's intensity remained as high as ever, and he had three chances to break early in the fourth. However, Federer refused to relent, and continued to thwart the Spaniard.

Federer had his chance to force the match to a decider when a scintillating backhand down the line handed him break point, but he saw his chance evaporate as his forehand snuck wide. With the set heading for another tiebreak, Federer cracked and a mishit backhand handed Nadal the break, and with it, the chance to serve for a place in the final.

Nadal showed signs of nerves as his forehand fizzed wide, and he was forced to save two break-back points from a determined Federer, but he held his nerve to clinch his 18th career win over Federer and the chance to regain the title he won in 2009.

The world No. 2 will now meet the winner of Friday's semi-final between world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, while Federer's wait for a 17th grand slam title continues.

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