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Australian Open 2012: Rafael Nadal overcomes Tomas Berdych to set up semi-final against Roger Federer

By Ankit --There was a revealing moment during the legendary Wimbledon final of 2008 when Pascal Maria, the chair umpire, noticed that both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were making eye contact with him after each point.
It’s like they were saying, ‘We need each other’s support Maria said later. There will be a winner and a loser but let’s deal with everything together to make it special.
That match, which Nadal won 9-7 in the fifth, was more than just “special. It was peerless. And so is the rivalry between these two champions, a rivalry that has now stretched to 26 matches and eight grand slam finals. In the annals of tennis, only Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova come close.
So it feels a little odd, almost unnatural, that Federer and Nadal should now be preparing to meet in the first semi-final in Rod Laver Arena. Here we have two of the most feted individual sportsmen on the planet. The list of their achievements makes world No 1 Novak Djokovic look like a naive newbie. And yet tomorrow’s match will, in theory, be no more than a warm-up act for Sunday’s final.
Nadal takes a different view. We are talking about a player who won 16 grand slams,” he said last night, after negotiating a draining quarter-final against 2010 Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych. “I have won 10 and we have played a lot of matches between each other, in very important moments for our careers. All the matches against him are special and will be special even if we are No 20 against No 25.
Earlier, Federer had revealed that he was rooting for Nadal to beat Berdych, because he wanted to settle another score from their rich history. “Obviously I’d like to play Rafa because of our great epic match in the final here a few years ago, he said.
Federer was referring to another dramatic five-set defeat, inflicted at the 2009 Australian Open, which left him weeping so uncontrollably at the presentation ceremony that he found it difficult to accept his runners-up prize.
“God, it’s killing me, Federer said then. Tomorrow will be his chance to do some killing of his own. If Nadal serves up as many short balls as he did in the early stages of last night’s match, he can expect Federer to scatter winners all over the court like confetti.
The Fed Express certainly lived up to his nickname yesterday as he swept past Juan Martin Del Potro — another man he has history with — in just 1hr 59min. It was classic Federer as he controlled the match and stroked the ball into gaps like the ultimate string-pulling midfielder.
Del Potro’s forehand might be recovering something of the potency it had in 2009, the year he sentenced Federer to another grand slam final defeat in New York. But it is hard to see him adding to his major tournament tally unless he starts moving more like a panther than a buffalo. Federer kept wrong-footing him with cunningly placed slices, and Rod Laver Arena seemed to shake to its foundations every time he wheeled around.
Nadal, of course, will be a totally different proposition. Even with the bandage around his right knee, which he has worn since the joint mysteriously locked up on the eve of the tournament, he still showed extraordinary foot speed yesterday as he chased Berdych’s bazooka of a forehand around the court. There was one 29-stroke rally in which he had to make half a dozen desperate retrievals before finally firing a cross-court winner. It was unquestionably the point of the tournament so far.
But how much will yesterday’s battle of wills have taken out of Nadal? It was a stressful match in anybody’s language, especially in the first-set tiebreak. He has rarely shown so much anger as he did when a line-judge failed to spot an overhit backhand from Berdych. After being denied the right to challenge the call on Hawk-Eye, Nadal unleashed a stream of Spanish at the umpire, Carlos Bernardes. For a moment, he almost looked as if he was going to smash his racket into the ground — something that his coach, ‘Uncle’ Toni Nadal, has always expressly forbidden.
Still, Nadal had recovered his composure by the end of the match, which he won 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 6-3. He went so far as to say that “the fourth set was one of my best on this kind of surface, returning inside the court, [and] making a lot of winners”.
Nadal finished last year in low spirits, especially after an uncharacteristically limp 6-3, 6-0 defeat to Federer at the O₂ Arena in London, but it seems he is slowly beginning to get his mojo working again.
“After two years with troubles and injuries [at the Australian Open], semi-finals is a very good way to start the season,” he said. “Even if I lose [to Federer], I come back home with very positive feeling about how I played.”
It almost sounds as if Nadal will go out feeling he has nothing to lose. Which would make him even more dangerous than normal.


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