Rafael Nadal will try to set up a hugely anticipated Australian Open final with his old rival Roger Federer when he plays the in-form Grigor Dimitrov in the semis on Friday.
Few gave injury-hit thirty-somethings Nadal and Federer any chance pre-tournament but the Swiss maestro is already into Sunday’s title match and his long-time sparring partner is keen to follow.
The early defeats of top seeds Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic opened the door to other challengers and Federer and Nadal have shown they’re still at the front of the queue.
Nadal, 30, has looked fit and aggressive, if not fully back to his best, in beating third seed Milos Raonic, Gael Monfils and Alexander Zverev in his last three matches.
“All of them are top players. So that’s very important for me because that means that I am competitive and playing well. I worked hard to try to make that happen,” Nadal said.
The 14-time Grand Slam-winner, now ranked ninth, is aiming for his first major final since in two-and-a-half years after returning from an injury-wrecked 2016.
But Bulgaria’s Dimitrov, once dubbed ‘Baby Fed’ for his similarity to Federer, poses an interesting test as he is in the form of his life and playing with new focus and determination.
Dimitrov has beaten five top-20 players in a 10-match winning streak this year, equalling the best of his career, which includes his victory this month in Brisbane.
“He’s a player that has an unbelievable talent, unbelievable potential. He’s started the season playing unbelievable,” Nadal said.
“It’s going to be a very tough match for me. I hope for him, too. I have to play my best because he’s playing with high confidence.”
The 2009 winner is 7-1 in his matches with 15th seed Dimitrov, including a four-set quarter-final win at the Australian Open three years ago.
Another salient statistic is that Nadal is 66-8 against players with one-handed backhands at Slams.
The last time the Bulgarian won 10 straight matches was back in 2014, when he took the title at Queen’s and reached the last four at Wimbledon.
“I feel like I have all the tools to go further and my job isn’t over yet,” Dimitrov said. “I’m looking forward to my match. I think I’m prepared.
“I think I’m ready to go the distance. I don’t shy away from that. I’m confident enough to say that as I feel good physically, and overall on the court.”