A ruthless Rafael Nadal crushed his great rival Roger Federer 7-6 (7/4), 6-3, 6-3 yesterday in an awesome display of raw power and precision to reach his third Australian Open final.
On a breezy night at the Rod Laver Arena, the 2009 champion notched his sixth straight win in Grand Slams over the Swiss, stunning his opponent with a master class of clean hitting to book a title-decider with Stanislas Wawrinka.
Dominating Federer in the first-set tiebreak, the Spaniard broke twice to charge through the second and captured the decisive break in the third at 3-3 when his opponent blasted into the net cord and the deflection sailed long.
Hitting winners from all corners, Nadal raised two match points as Federer served to stay in the match and sealed it on the second, when the shell-shocked Swiss shanked a forehand long.
Nadal punched his left fist into the night sky and roared in triumph, while a demoralized Federer gave a cursory wave before trudging to the exit.
“I think tonight I played my best match of the tournament, so I’m very happy for that,” top seed Nadal, who missed last year’s tournament through illness, said in a courtside interview.
“After missing last year, for me it’s really emotional to be back on this court, in Rod Laver,” he said.
“I never thought about having 14 [Slams], the only thing I can swear is that I’m going to try my best,” the 13-time Grand Slam champion said of his prospects for the final.
The lopsided result will refuel the debate as to the greatest player of all time, with Nadal extending his head-to-head dominance over Federer to 23-10, and thrashing him on a hard court, the most democratic of surfaces.
A runaway victory seemed an absurd notion early, as the pair parried and probed in the opening games.
Nadal was impenetrable on serve and demanded Federer meet him in a tiebreak, where the Swiss promptly stumbled.
Throwing his opponent from side to side, the Spaniard played it completely on his terms, roaring to a 5-1 lead and closing the set out when Federer sent an increasingly shaky backhand sailing past the baseline.
Frustrated by Nadal’s stifling consistency, Federer was further agitated after the Spaniard left the court between sets and then had treatment on his blistered hand at the first change of ends.
Federer was forced to defend three break points at 2-1 and survived only by a centimeter shown up on the “Hawk-eye” technology after a challenge on a line call.
An outrageous cross-court passing shot steered from a seemingly impossible angle gave Nadal another look at Federer’s serve at 3-2, and he smacked an inside-out forehand to leave Federer flat-footed, broken and in deep trouble.
Serving for the set, Nadal wobbled to 0-30, but closed it out with four straight points.
An unkind net cord put Federer on the rack at 15-40 again on serve, and he was unable to breach it with another backhand to slump to an early break in the third game.
Against all logic and reason, Nadal shanked a forehand to give up two break points and then fired another just past the baseline to allow Federer to break back.
Having been marginally off all night, Federer flirted with the net cord again and was broken to 4-3.
Smelling blood, Nadal pounced as the teetering Swiss served to stay in the match, closing out the contest with a dizzying array of winners.