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2009 Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal booked his place in the dream semi-final opposite arch nemesis Roger Federer late on Tuesday night, surviving a fantastic 4 hours 16 minutes duel with no.7 seed Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic. Nadal dropped the opening set in a tiebreak, saved a set point en route to winning the second in identical fashion before in relative terms running away with the next two sets 6-4, 6-3 to advance to the final four at the Australian Open for the first time since his run to the title. Nadal's win sets up a tantalizing showdown with old foe Roger Federer, who had a much easier evening, cruising into the semis on the back of a comfortable 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 win against 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro.
Nadal came into this match as the overwhelming favourite, not having lost to Berdych since 2006, and having put 9 wins past the Czech since. While Berdych undoubtedly had the stronger arsenal, Rafa's athleticism and court coverage meant that every point was going to be fiercely contested. The marathon four set match saw the two men produce an incredible 120 plus winners between them as they stood toe to toe for the better part of the contest. However, once Nadal got his nose in front, there was no stopping him, despite Berdych producing a valiant effort.
The opening set lasted a massive 75 minutes with the two warriors engaged in some long rallies with Berdych generating all the pace and Nadal working his socks off from 6 feet behind the baseline. Games went on serve right through, though there were some exceptionally tense moments in the 12th game on Rafa's serve. Berdych went up 0-40 and had a fourth set point later in the game, but was unable to produce the killer blow with Rafa playing some exceptional tennis including saving one of the set points on what was easily the point of the tournament. The tiebreak was just as competitive and some poor decision making cost Rafa as his failure to challenge a long groundstroke by Berdych on time meant that the original call stood giving the Czech the mini break at 6-5, which he duly converted with a thumping ace.
A visibly annoyed Rafa was immediately under pressure in the opening game of the second set, and saved two crucial break points to keep his focus very much on the task at hand. The Spaniard's tenacity was rewarded with a break in the fourth game, and he seemed on course to level the match at a set apiece as her served for the second set at 5-3. Berdych though refused to go away, and played an excellent 9th game to wrestle the break back. The set once again made its way into a tiebreak, with Berdych saving a set point of his own in the 12th game this time. Unlike the first set, this tiebreak saw Nadal storm ahead 4-1 with a mini-break, but Berdych once again showed tremendous stomach for the fight, clawing his way back into contention by getting the break back with a fabulous forehand winner. Berdych then had the set on his racquet as he stormed the net at 5-6 on the Nadal serve, but could not control a backhand volley at full stretch. Nadal made full use of the second life as two unforced errors from the big Czech enabled the popular Spaniard to keep his challenge alive as he took the breaker 8-6.
With only 2 sets played in 2Â½ hours, the fans in the Rod Laver Arena were getting more than their money's worth and with both athletes looking supremely fit, this could well go on all night!
Not surprisingly, the third set failed to match up to the first two in terms of both intensity and quality. It was surprising though that it was Nadal who blinked first as Berdych rebounded brilliantly from the loss of that tight second set to skip ahead 2-0. The Czech though failed to consolidate the break, and in fact went on a win-less run of four games as Nadal not only broke back, but put himself firmly in the ascendancy in this contest. Nadal went on to wrap up the third set 6-4 in 53 minutes.
The momentum continued to swing Nadal's way and an early break in the fourth set appeared to seal Berdych's fate. A marathon fifth game saw Berdych produce a miraculous hold, saving breakpoints a plenty to deny Nadal a double break. That hold just about kept the Czech in the contest, and proved mighty crucial as he stormed back on the Nadal serve in the next game to earn two break back points. Nadal though produced two big forehands to avert the immediate danger and held firm to move ahead 4-2. A couple of holds later the pressure was right back on Berdych as he served to stay alive in match. A couple of forehand winners put Nadal up 0-30 on the Berdych serve, and two points later the former champion booked his date with destiny - Roger Federer.
(2) Rafael Nadal (ESP) d. (7) Tomas Berdych (CZE) 67 76 64 63
File Photograph Copyright: Australian Open
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