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Friday, January 27, 2012

Nadal aiming for Australian Open title

MELBOURNE – Rafael Nadal rallied against rival Roger Federer to produce a battling 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 win for on Thursday for a place in the Australian Open final.

The world number two, the 2009 winner, lifted his record against Federer to 18-9 as the pair played for the tenth time in a Grand Slam, with Nadal now 8-2.

In the finals, Nadal will face world number one Novak Djokovic or two-time finalist Andy Murray. That pair played a Friday semi in a rematch of the title match of a year ago.

The defeat in three and three-quarter hours means that 16-time Grand Slam winner Federer has not won a major in two years since beating Murray in the 2010 final.

Nadal came to the court with titles in three straight event to end 2011 and a quarter-final to start 2012 in Doha before retiring with back spasms.

He had rolled almost unmolested through the Melbourne field, spending five hours less on court than second seed Nadal.

Nadal said he was shocked to make a title bid after a knee scare on the eve of his opening match.

“I could not have imagined getting to the final,” said the winner of 10 Grand Slams. “It’s a dream to be back in the final here.”

Federer fired 11 aces but was weighed down by 63 unforced errors while his opponent kept his mistakes to 34.

Federer converted on only three of 10 break chances; Nadal broke six times, including in the ninth game of the fourth set to take a 5-4 lead.

But fighting Federer did not roll over, saving a match point and forcing Nadal to salvage a pair of break points. The Spaniard prevailed on his second winning opportunity, with Federer sending a forehand long.

“It was another fantastic match for us,” said the always deferential Nadal, ranked second to Federer’s third.

“It’s always amazing to play Roger. You have an opponent in front of you without mistakes and with a complete game. I’ve always been learning from him through my entire career.”

In women’s play, the final will be contested between the fourth seeded 2008 champion Maria Sharapova, and number three Victoria Azarenka, with the world number one ranking also in line for the winner.

Sharapova, winner of three Slams, reached the Melbourne final for a third time by beating second seed Petra Kvitova 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in a re-run of last summer’s Wimbledon final won by the Czech.

Azarenka put out holder Kim Clijsters 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 to reach her first Grand Slam final.

“It means so much to be back in a Grand Slam final,” said Sharapova. “It’s nice to get that far again after losing quite early in the last couple of years.

“I played someone that’s just had really great results and has beaten me the last couple of times. I just really wanted it today. “I fought to the last point. I just hung on in the third set and really went for it.”

Azarenka survived a drama in serving out her win over Clijsters in two hours, 12 minutes. Holding three match points, she double-faulted on the first but screamed with joy when the Belgian sent a backhand out to lose.

“It felt like my hand weighed 200 kilograms,” said the winner. “And my body about 1,000. Everything was shaking,” said the player who won Sydney coming into the major but has never been beyond the semis in a Grand Slam.’’

Azarenka’s match win was her 11th of the season without a loss. She overcame seven double-faults with 40 winners and four of 11 break-point chances.

Clijsters, who has likely played for the last time at the event after announcing that at age 28 and the mother of a child, that this would be her final season, had 26 winners and 44 errors.

“I’m disappointed, but then again, I felt like I have given it my all these last two weeks, and it’s unfortunate.

“I could have been home already two days ago,” the Belgian said after overcoming an ankle injury in her upset of French Open winner Li Na in the fourth round. “I really gave it 200 percent.”