A red-hot Rafael Nadal has dismissed Roger Federer in the semifinals to book his place in Sunday's Australian Open men's final.
Nadal was in scintillating form as he defeated Federer in straight sets 7-6(4) 6-3 6-3 on Friday night at Rod Laver Arena.
“I played well tonight,” said a happy Nadal. “I think I played probably my best match of the tournament.”
And Federer agreed. “He did a good job. He didn't make many errors, even though I was trying to hit hard and flat. I tried to play my game. Sometimes I did play very well and sometimes I didn't. But he overall was more consistent. He deserved to win tonight. I mean, he was better.”
Playing their 33rd match against each other, world No.1 Nadal – who has won 23 of their encounters – entered as favourite and finished as the victor in two hours and 24 minutes. In Grand Slams, Nadal has been victorious in nine out of 11 matches.
With Federer's back issues consigned to 2013, there were high hopes that tonight's match would resemble the halcyon days of one of tennis's favourite rivalries.
And at times it did, but for the most part it was a vehicle for Nadal to showcase his extraordinary hunger and competitiveness. If anyone doubted Nadal's claim to the No.1 spot in the world, then this performance should be more than enough to answer any remaining questions.
The match started on a high – both players in fine form, each striking the ball cleanly and trading winners early on; and Federer stated his intention at the outset to approach the net at every given opportunity.
It was a tactic that worked earlier, but ultimately did the Swiss Ace more harm than good the longer the match lasted. If Federer's approach was anything less than perfect, Nadal would send back a heftily struck passing shot.
“Is nothing completely new that he's playing aggressive,” explained Nadal after the match. “He's a very aggressive player. He's one of these players that he's able to win the point in one shot, in two shots.
“So not everybody's able to play that way. He's one of these players that is able to play that way. That's very difficult to stop.”
With zero break-point chances for either player in the opening set, it was decided by a tiebreak. Some crucial errors from the sixth seed allowed Nadal to race to a 5-1 lead, which he was never in danger of letting slip.
“Was decisive to win that first set, after winning the first set, a tough first set,” said Nadal.
“So after a few tough rallies at the end of the first set, was a lot of confidence for me.”
The top seed really began to assert himself in the second set, chasing down everything and refusing to let any point go cheaply.
A missed swinging volley in the first game set the scene for the rest of the match. Had Federer made the shot instead of smacking it into the net he would have had a break point. Instead, Nadal held serve and Federer's frustration grew.
That frustration boiled over shortly after when Federer had words with chair umpire Jake Garner about Nadal's off-and-on grunting. Garner dismissed the complaint and the match continued.
Nadal cracked the match open not long after with an off-forehand winner to take a 4-2 lead that he rode to the end of the second set, taking it 6-3.
By this stage Nadal was having the better of the longer rallies, piling the pressure on Federer until he was forced into error or Nadal crafted a winner.
In all, Federer finished the match with 50 unforced errors, doubling Nadal's 25. And he also led the winner count 34 to Nadal's 28.
It's not just that Rafa is an incredible competitor capable of running down almost anything, but his anticipation tonight proved to be the ace up his sleeve.
With the match slipping away from him, Federer struck an incredible 150km/h backhand only to see Nadal send it back with interest for a winner. It didn't seem to matter what Federer did, tried or even thought, Nadal had it covered.
Down a break early in the third set, Federer fought hard to break back – his only break of serve for the match – only for Nadal to break again in the seventh game.
Another incredible curling forehand down the line on the dead run brought up a second match point for Nadal, and when Federer knocked a forehand long the match was over.
Nadal will now prepare for his 19th major final overall, which puts him equal with Ivan Lendl but still five behind Federer. And should he win on Sunday for his 14th major title, he will draw level with Pete Sampras.
Waiting for the world No.1 is Stanislas Wawrinka, who is playing in just his first Grand Slam final. Nadal has won all 12 of their matches to date and will be favoured to make it 13-0.
Should he do it, the Spaniard will become the first man to win every major twice or more in the Open era.