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Nadal downs Dimitrov in five to set up dream Australian Open final with Federer

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Spanish superstar Rafael Nadal set up a dream Australian Open final with his long-time rival Swiss legend Roger Federer, defeating Bulgarian youngster Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-7(4) 6-4 in the semi-finals of the Australian Open on Friday.

Friday night's victory over Dimitrov was Nadal's eighth in nine career meetings with the Bulgarian, who played in a major semi-final for the second time after first reaching the final four at Wimbledon in 2014.

It was an emotional victory for the 30-year-old Nadal, who is through to his first Grand Slam final since winning the 2014 French Open crown - his 14th major triumph.

The Spaniard withstood an initial barrage from Dimitrov, who held two break point chances in a lengthy opening game. But after holding serve, Nadal raced to a 4-1 advantage, breaking Dimitrov in the fourth game by picking the Bulgarian off at the net.

He afforded Dimitrov no opportunity to break back, despite the Bulgarian raising his level as the set progressed, and sealed the opener in 35 minutes with a forehand volley winner.

The second set was in contrast an error prone affair with Nadal losing his cool when asked by the referee to hurry up and dropped his serve. A few games back when Nadal broke back, the duo traded breaks repeatedly before Dimitrov finally sealed the second set 7-5.

The level of play rose again in the third set and continued to be exemplary as the match wore on. Nadal nicked the third set in a tiebreak, but Dimitrov refused to go away, winning the fourth in a breaker of his own, taking the match all the way into a decider.

The fifth set started in dramatic fashion with Dimitrov saving 4 break points in the opening game before Nadal saved one of his own in the next game. Service games continued to be closely contested all the way through the set before Nadal sealed the decisive break in the all important 9th game. He served out the match in the next to register an incredible win in just a shade under 5 hours.

The 14-time Grand Slam champion will play Federer in a Grand Slam final for the ninth time, after the 17-time Grand Slam champion beat 2014 Melbourne Park winner Stan Wawrinka in five sets on Thursday night.

Nadal, the 2009 Australian Open champion, seeded ninth, leads Federer 23-11 in their head-to-head rivalry, and has won their past three meetings in Melbourne, at the semi-final stage in 2012 and 2014 in addition to the 2009 final. In Grand Slam finals, Nadal holds a 6-2 lead over his rival, winning their past four meetings in major tournament deciders, the last being in 2011 at Roland Garros.

An ecstatic Nadal shared after the match, “For me it’s a privilege and I think it’s a very special thing for both of us to be in the final... When you work hard, when you have some tough moments … last year was tough for me. It takes a while to come back to the level that you had when you were playing well. Roland Garros was a tough moment. I worked a lot during this month and a half at home. I never dreamed to be back in the final of the Australian Open … but here I am. I feel very lucky, and very, very happy."