Rafael Nadal(2) vs Roger Federer(3)
Semi-Finals Australian Open 2012
Day 11, January 26, 2012
Venue: Rod Laver Arena
Time: 7:30 pmFederer and Nadal to Meet in Australian Open Semifinals
MELBOURNE, Australia — It was killing Roger Federer the last time he played Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open. Now after a day and night when both champions were in classic form, Federer will get his rematch.
“For everything, for what represents the match, all the matches against him are special,” Nadal said. “And they will be special even if we are 20 against 25.”
After health scares in the buildup to the first major tournament this year — the back for Federer, a shoulder and a knee for Nadal — both radiated vitality at Rod Laver Arena.
Laver, celebrating the 50th anniversary of his winning all four Grand Slam events in 1962, picked a fine if torrid day to have a front-row seat. Federer was the Federer of the mind’s eye in his 1,000th tour-level match, free-flowing and imperious as he carved up the serious threat posed by Juan Martín del Potro to win their quarterfinal, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.
Nadal, true to his image, had to dig deeper. Sweat coated his legs and clung to his dark hair as he conjured spectacular running forehands, cast sideways glances in the direction of his uncle and coach, Toni Nadal, and eventually whipped and willed his way past Tomas Berdych, who is developing a harder edge at 26.
Federer required 1 hour 59 minutes to win his match against del Potro. Nadal and Berdych required 2:26 just to split sets, with Berdych winning the first tiebreaker and Nadal wresting the second after Berdych failed to make a forehand volley that might have changed his luck after nine straight losses to Nadal.
On they scrapped in the match of the tournament so far. In the end, Nadal’s increased ability to attack the seventh-seeded Berdych’s serve and to turn defense into offense in a heartbeat made the difference as he won, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-3, in 4:16.
“The level is very positive, much, much better than the end of the season,” Nadal said. “The character on the court, the way to win the points. Everything was much more positive. So I’m very happy.”
Federer was not happy the last time he faced Nadal here. He lost the 2009 final in five sets, muttering, “God, it’s killing me,” in the award ceremony and breaking down in tears with Nadal putting an arm around him. Long the friendliest of archrivals in public, there have been signs of estrangement with disagreements over tour politics. Nadal even criticized Federer sharply in a pretournament news conference for not speaking out and for letting other players take the flak.
But Nadal backed down the next day, and Federer said there was no extra edge to this match because of the comments. But that does not mean there will be no added meaning to the next chapter in their rivalry.
Rafael Nadal sets up Australian Open semi-final against Roger Federer
Their first semi-final in a slam for seven years on Thursday will be the most significant collision of this Australian Open to this point, and the Spaniard has rediscovered his tigerish championship game at just the right time.
The Swiss, who has been majestic all the way, never more so than in dismissing Juan Martín del Potro in the earlier quarter-final in the crushing afternoon heat, will probably start favourite to reach the final. But there will not be much in it. The last time they met here was in final of 2009, Rafa's year of magic.
"That is one of the finals that will always be in my mind," Nadal said after completing a draining 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 6-3 win over Tomas Berdych in four-and-a-quarter hours, almost half the time he had taken in total in his first four matches.
In his halting, charming English, Nadal got to the heart of his rivalry with Federer – one that was briefly mired in acrimony at the start of this tournament, because of their differing views of industrial action to press the case for reforms on the Tour, but swayed back towards respect over subsequent days.
"The ranking is important but we are talking about a player who won 16 grand slams and I won 10. We played a lot of matches, in very important moments for our careers, and very high moments. So the match is special.
"But for everything, for what represents the match, all the matches against him are special and will be special even if we are 20 against 25."
Rod Laver watched on Monday night in the arena named after him, as the Spaniard came back from perilous situations in the first two sets; Federer said earlier he planned to watch it on television in his hotel room, not something he always bothers to do. He will surely have been impressed.
The Swiss's win – in his 1,000th Tour match – was too one-sided to enthral and it was unfortunate Del Potro could not find the game that so dazzled his peers in 2009 when, before a wrist injury cut him down, he was good enough to beat Federer in the final of the US Open as well as in the World Tour Finals. Here, he could only manage to keep the world No3 on court for a minute under two hours.
A smattering of boos sliced through the warm night air for Berdych when he entered Rod Laver Arena; the ugly memory of his refusal to shake hands with Nadal's compatriot Nicolás Almagro this week – after the Spaniard had slammed a volley at him – obviously has not faded for many people. Perhaps Nadal was among their number. Not that he ever struggles for friends, but the crowd were with him from the start, especially so when he gave the toss coin to the little boy chosen to spin it for serve, which went to the Czech.
Apart from his mystery tendon-pinch injury while sitting on a chair in his hotel room last week (his right knee has been heavily strapped since), he was in good shape. He had had a smooth run to the quarters, spending a mere eight hours and 35 minutes over his four easy wins. Nobody got closer than four games to him in any of the 12 sets. There would be no such failure of purpose on Berdych's part.
With three grams extra weight near the top of his racket when he arrived in Australia, Nadal was looking for more raw power on the slowest of the hard courts, although there has not been much evidence of it. It was Berdych who did the early bullying.
At 5-5 in the tie-break, he hit long but there was no call by line judge or umpire. Nadal baulked after hitting the return and challenged a split second late while moving across the baseline – but the moment had gone, and the Spaniard had made a proper mess of it. When Berdych aced to take the set, Nadal was clearly rattled – but fired up also.
Uncharacteristically, he indulged in an angry exchange with the chair umpire Carlos Bernárdez, a Spanish-speaking Brazilian and one of the best officials in the business.
"You're not a spectator," Nadal told him at the changeover, suggesting Bernárdez should have been more pro-active; it paid a dividend of sorts, as Bernárdez subsequently corrected at least half a dozen poor line calls, which has been a bugbear of the tournament.
In a highly charged atmosphere when tempers might have boiled over, Berdych (not the calmest of players under pressure) grabbed a break point at the start of the second, but could not capitalise. This was a knife-edge match now, with tempers and judgment near fraying point.
The challenge jitters hit Berdych and, as he had used all three for the set and was trailing 30-40 on serve and 2-1, he was left without the option on a vital close call. Nadal rubbed it in with a delightful volley to break and the momentum swung his way at last. He drew further away on his serve, and Berdych needed to settle and start again.
Nadal gave him the opening with some underpowered serving at 5-3 up before faltering then fighting back to secure another tie-break. It was Berdych's fifth in a row, his seventh of the tournament and he had yet to be bettered. Not this time. He hit long on the 14th point and Nadal's joy mingled with relief as he wrapped up a set that was there on a plate for him half an hour earlier.
Nadal did not win 10 slam titles by failing to smell apprehension. And that was what he sensed when he broke Berdych to go 3-2 up. After playing some great points and hitting some wonderful shots behind a big first serve, Berdych's level dropped in keeping with his growing frustration.
When the Mallorcan smashed a back-leaning winner to take the third, his box took on the look of a travelling disco – even his rarely seen football-famous uncle Miguel Angel "The Beast" Nadal was hopping about like a teenager.
When he hit an outrageous running forehand to break at the start of the fourth, well, they might as well have stayed on their feet, because the celebrations remained in full swing all the way to the end.
Just about on the stroke of midnight, Nadal broke Berdych to love to win the match, finishing the job with his iron-wristed forehand, and any bad blood that had flowed between them was forgotten. Berdych wiped the slate clean with his courage and Nadal found again the unique spirit that makes him so special.
"I try my best in every moment," Nadal said. It is his mantra. Now it has substance again.
Federer eases into semifinals
By Alix Ramsay
Roger Federer of Switzerland v Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina in their quarter-final on Rod Laver Arena, day 9, 2012 Australian Open, 24 January 2012.
Ben Solomon/ Tennis Australia
We seem to have been here before. As the line-up for the semifinals takes shape, Roger Federer is the first man into position, comfortably getting his feet under the table with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 win over Juan Martin Del Potro in just a minute under two hours. It seemed like old times, indeed.
It was Federer’s 31st consecutive Grand Slam quarterfinal (he has won all but three of them), his 30th semifinal place in all and – feel free to gasp here – his 1,000th match at tour level (clearly he must have been a child bride; either that Methuselah’s God-son is wearing well). And he made it look so easy.
“It's a big milestone, I agree,” he said cheerfully. “It's a lot of matches and a lot tennis. Either I have been around for a long time or I'm extremely fit. You decide which way you want to describe it. I don't know. But I'm happy.”
Del Potro is still on his way back from his annus horribilis of 2010 when a wrist injury kept him out of action for most of the season. Last year was spent forcing his way back up the rankings from No.257 to No.11 and now, as he hopes and everyone else expects, the next few months will be spent trying to force his way back into the world’s top five. He is fit, he is ready and he is dangerous. And Federer sploshed him.
Then again, Federer has been looking awfully good for a few months now. At the end of Grand Slam season last year, the once-mighty Fed had come away with nothing: not a major trophy to call his own for the first time since 2003. He had also turned 30 in August so as the pundits prepared their obits and Fed’s followers chewed their fingernails down to the knuckles, the man himself took a few weeks off and had a think. Well, he had a rest and a think. What he obviously decided was that there was quite a bit of gas left in the tank – he was ready for the fray once more.
When he returned to the circuit at his hometown event in October, he was renewed, refreshed and revived. He won there and went on to mop up the Bercy title and the prestigious ATP World Tour Finals in London. The Fed was back and he meant business. But as he is the first to point out, that was a while ago where the conditions were different and the stakes were lower. Not even he knew if he could carry that form into the new season and through the Australian Open.
“I guess you're always a little worried that when you come back you're like not going to play as good and conditions are going to be different,” Federer said. “That was all indoors at the end of the season. This is clearly slow outdoor hard courts, so you're never quite sure if you're going to adjust and are you going to be moving as well or is it going to be completely different movement just because it is slower‑paced courts.”
He need not have worried. He has not dropped a set so far and has been looking sharper the longer the tournament has gone on. Del Potro posed the greatest challenge in the first set, was tricky to put away in the second and then was defenceless in the third. As Federer moved to set point in the second set, bringing a nine-minute game to a conclusion, he let out a roar, a sound we have not heard for a while. It is not Federer getting excited, it is not Federer getting frustrated – it is simply Fed assuming complete control.
“I knew the danger of playing Juan Martin, so potentially it was my big test,” Federer explained. “But I kind of looked at the Tomic match as a big test for me, seeing where my rhythm was, how I was playing, because the first three rounds I didn't get much rhythm. For me it was maybe that match. Today I was much more relaxed about playing Juan Martin for some reason, even though he's got the much bigger record as a player.”
What also must have relaxed him was his overall performance. Everything was working almost perfectly and Del Potro could not find a way to hurt him – and many a poor bloke has found himself in that situation when Fed is in his pomp.
“I'm moving well, I'm serving well, I'm hitting the ball clean,” Federer said in his own, inimitable style. “Today I thought on a very hot day with fast conditions, I was able to control the ball. I didn't really struggle too much on his serve today for some reason. I was able to return great, and I think that was a big key. Then I think I was serving the right way, even though I didn't have the highest first serve percentage.”
So, the Fed has given himself 10-out-of-10. That’s nice. But he did pause to assess Del Potro’s performances over the past couple of weeks – and he knows that the big man will be back to haunt him in the not-too-distant future.
“I still believe he's right there in the group behind the top four,” Fed explained. “If that means five or 11, I don't think it matters much. He's right there. He's going to make another move and another push this year, I think. I will definitely see him in the top 8 at the end of the year. He'll get many more chances this year. It's a long year and it's only the beginning. So for me, I'm happy I'm playing well, but I also see that he's actually in good shape, too.”
And with that, Fed was off to prepare for match No.1001 of his extraordinary career.