It took 4-hours, 13-minutes but Rafael Nadal finally beat Tomas Berdych to set up a mouthwatering Thursday night blockbuster with Roger Federer in the Australian Open semifinals.
But it nearly wasn’t meant to be. After Federer smoked Juan Martin Del Potro 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in an earlier quarterfinal, Nadal, who had dominated Tomas Berdych winning their last nine meetings, was in trouble early on.
In a topsy-turvy 75-minute first set, Berdych came out ahead in a tiebreaker. Nadal then jumped a break ahead in the second, but Berdych came back, forced another breaker holding a crucial set point at 6-5.
Nadal refocused winning the last three points to level at one set apiece.
Just when it looked like Nadal had seized the match, Berdych scored the early break in the third to lead 2-0. Nadal again came back winning the set and then hung on for the fourth to win 6-7(5), 7-6(6), 6-4, 6-3.
“Very happy with anything,” Nadal said. “Semifinals is fantastic result for me. Start the season with semifinals in the first big tournament of the season is very good news. The level is very positive, much, much better than the end of the season. The character on court, the way to win the points, everything was much more positive, so I’m very happy.”
Berdych had drawn the ire of many fans after not shaking hand in the prior round with Nadal’s countryman Nicolas Almagro. But the incident never was a factor.
“It was really good match,” Berdych said. “But actually it was only good, which means that is not enough with Rafa.
“I think the only difference today why I like didn’t end out the second set and probably all night was that if I would be playing better on the night, then I think I could make it today, and I was really close,” he added. .
Federer and Nadal will meet for a 27th time, first in a semifinal since the 2005 French Open won by Nadal on his 19th birthday.
“We have been, you know, on opposite sides of the draw many times,” Federer said. “I didn’t even play Murray last year, you know, because we were ranked I guess 3 and 4, so we always ran into Novak or ‑‑ I basically always ran into Novak. I guess it’s a nice changeup. Okay, it doesn’t allow a rematch for the Australian Open final here, you know, if Murray were to play Novak. But I think it’s good for tennis that it changes up a bit. Like I said, I’d love to play Rafa in the semis if it happens.”
Nadal also leads Federer 7-2 in Grand Slam play including a devastating win over the Swiss in the 2009 Australian Open final. On hardcourt the scales tip to Federer 5-4.
“Always playing in these kind of surfaces he’s the favorite,” Nadal said. “His level is fantastic, and he won today a fantastic match against one of the best players of the world, Del Potro. So he’s doing very, very well.
“So he’s coming with confidence. It will be a very, very difficult match for me, and I will try. But for me, the most important thing I had the calm. The feeling of the level of my game during all the tournament was really satisfying. Even if I lose, I come back home with very positive feeling about how I played, and for sure the result is good. For me, semifinals after two years with troubles, injuries, is, you know, I must be happy for that.”
On Wednesday, Andy Murray faces Kei Nishikori and Novak Djokovic tests David Ferrer.
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2013 Australian Open TV Schedule: ESPN2, Tennis Channel