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Friday, January 30, 2009

Nadal into final after epic win

Rafael Nadal will meet Roger Federer in the Australian Open final after the world number one battled past fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco on Friday.

Nadal won a magnificent match 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 7-6 (7-2) 6-7 (1-7) 6-4 to reach his first final in Melbourne.

Verdasco's extra power looked capable of causing an upset throughout as he fired an incredible 95 winners.

But Nadal made the crucial breakthrough in game 10 of the fifth set to seal a dramatic win in five hours 14 minutes.

Nadal, 22, and Federer will meet on Sunday for the 19th time and seventh in Grand Slam finals, with the Spaniard leading 12-6 overall and 4-2 in major finals.

However, it will be the first time they have played each other in Melbourne and on hard courts in a Grand Slam final.

The last time they met was in the epic Wimbledon final last July that Nadal won in five sets.

Verdasco, 25, may have started the second semi-final in Melbourne without a win in six previous meetings with Nadal, but he has been a different player in Australia.

And it was the less heralded of the two Spaniards who earned the first break point in game three, dominating the ensuing rally only to waste all his hard work by hammering a smash over the baseline.

He had another half-chance at 0-30 up in game 10 but Nadal battled through and earned his first break points - also set points - in the following game.

But Verdasco displayed the same poise on big points as in previous victories over Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, saving the first with a huge serve and the second with an unreturnable backhand.

It came down to a tie-break and, after recovering an early mini-break, Verdasco got a huge slice of luck with a net cord at 5-4 before converting his first set point with a forehand volley.

The pattern of the match continued into the second set, with Verdasco's extra pace seemingly giving him the edge until Nadal stepped up a gear.

The top seed earned four more break points in a titanic game eight but Verdasco again got out of trouble with two fabulous serves and two forehand winners, before the pressure finally told in game 10.

A stunning forehand winner down the line produced break point number five of the set for Nadal, and Verdasco made his first major error by firing a forehand over the baseline.

The world number one looked ready to assume total control with a break early in the third set, edging another gripping game with a pinpoint forehand arrowed down the line.

But within moments Verdasco had broken back to love with some blistering winners and the contest was well and truly back on.

Nadal moved ahead again at 4-2, and again Verdacso responded immediately with a backhand winner to get back on serve.

Another tie-break was required and Nadal took the initiative as Verdasco started to make errors, the top seed sealing it with a superb forehand winner followed by an ace.

With the match over three-and-a-half hours old, Verdasco twice called for the trainer early in the fourth set and had treatment on his left calf.

But he showed no let-up in a desperately tight set that saw neither player force a break point as they headed for a third tie-break, which a rejuvenated Verdasco completely dominated with more explosive forehand winners.

The chances came thick and fast in the decider for Nadal, with five break points going begging in the first eight games as Verdasco hung on superbly with some great serving and one incredible forehand winner.

But after letting a 0-30 lead slip at 4-4, Verdasco finally cracked when serving to stay in the match.

Nadal moved to three match points when his opponent double-faulted and, after saving two, Verdasco incredibly double-faulted again to end the longest men's singles match in Australian Open history.

"It was very tough to play aggressive against a player like Fernando," said Nadal.

"He played unbelievable. Only when you're playing very well can you have these wins.

"Roger has a bit of an advantage over me. He's resting right now. But I want to try my best. It's very important for me to be in this final. Whatever happens on Sunday, I've started the season my best ever."

Verdasco said: "I'm sad to play a match like this and lose but I am also very proud of myself for the match I played and how I have done in this tournament.

"Both of us played unbelievable. I will have this match in my mind for the rest of my life."

He added: "It is a pity for Rafa that he had to play such a long match ahead of the final when Roger only played three sets.

"I want him to be 100% to play in the final. I lost but he is a big friend and I hope he wins on Sunday. I wish him all the best."

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