Nadal closes in on Federer final

MELBOURNE: Spain’s Rafael Nadal hits a return against Canada’s Milos Raonic during their men’s singles quarter-final match on day ten of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne yesterday. — AFP

MELBOURNE: Rafael Nadal edged closer to a muchanticipated Australian Open final with his great rival Roger Federer after marching into the semi-finals yesterday. The 14-time Grand Slam champion was too powerful for injury-hit world number three Milos Raonic, winning 6-4, 7-6 (9/7), 6-4 in two hours 44 minutes.

The Spanish superstar will play Bulgaria’s 15th seed Grigor Dimitrov in Friday’s semi-final. He leads Dimitrov 7-1. Nadal preferred to focus on his next match with Dimitrov rather than contemplating a ninth Grand Slam final showdown with Federer, but he paid tribute to the Swiss legend for his amazing run at this year’s Australian Open. “Let me enjoy today, the victory, being in semifinal. For me is great news again. It’s a good start of the season,” he told reporters. “Now I have a very tough match against Dimitrov. “Whatever happens 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 talked that probably he would 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 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.”

It was another accomplished performance from the 30-year-old Spaniard who reached his first Grand Slam semi-final since he won the 2014 French Open, and struggled with injury last year. “Great. It’s good news. Especially winning against difficult players: (Gael) Monfils in quarter-finals, (Alexander) Zverev round of 16 and now Raonic,” Nadal said. “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 so just excited about being back in final rounds of the most important events.”

It was the 30-year-old Spaniard’s fifth Australian Open semi-final and his 24th in Grand Slams. Nadal is bidding to win his second Australian Open title and become the first man in the Open era-and only the third man in history-to win each of the four Grand Slam titles twice. With his victory Nadal is projected to rise to six in next week’s ATP rankings unless Dimitrov goes on to win the Australian title, in which case he would be number seven. Winning the title in Melbourne would lift Nadal to fourth on the world rankings.

Nadal began the night quarter-final better and earned a break point in the fifth game before breaking when the Canadian over-hit a smash at double break point in his next service game. He safely negotiated the rest of his service games and took the opening set with an overhead smash. Nadal fought off a break point in a five-deuce service game early in the second set as Raonic began to serve better. The Canadian left the court at 3-2 for treatment to an adductor injury. Upon his return, games went with serve until Nadal came under attack in the 10th game, saving three set points with pressure serving. Raonic had three more set points in the tiebreaker and blew them all before Nadal took a two sets lead on his first set point as the match swung decisively the Spaniard’s way. Raonic was wayward with his volleying and made errors on crucial points to take the heat off Nadal. He looked physically in trouble and he was wincing in between points.

The end came quickly when Raonic fell three match points down in the 10th game and Nadal won the rally to win which he greeted with his arms raised in the air. “Obviously he put it together more consistently, much more consistently, than I did today,” Raonic said. “He’s doing a lot of things well. He’s fighting well, which has always been his strongest attribute.” — AFP

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