by Randy Walker
With tennis legends Pete Sampras, Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall in the stands and tennis fans watching on TV in all time zones at all hours of the day and night, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal contested a highly anticipated 33rd career meeting in the Australian Open semifinals.
But despite his newly-found confidence, his larger-faced racquet and new coach Stefan Edberg in his box, Federer was not able to exorcise the hex that Nadal has over him, losing for the 23th time to his left-handed Spanish tormentor.
“It’s like watching the same movie over and over and expecting a different ending” wrote a keen tennis observer on my Facebook wall of the Nadal vs. Federer rivalry that has seen the Spaniard win eight of the last 10 matches and all confrontations at Grand Slam events outside of two matches at Wimbledon in 2006 and 2007.
The 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-3 win for Nadal places him into the Australian final to face Federer’s Olympic doubles partner Stan Wawrinka, who, with his run to his first Grand Slam final, overtakes Federer as the No. 1 ranked player in Switzerland.
A victory over Wawrinka in the final would give Nadal a 14th career major singles title, equaling the major title haul won by Sampras and only three behind Federer’s record of 17 major singles championships. A title would also give Nadal the distinction of winning “a double career Grand Slam” – winning all four major titles at least two times, a feat only achieved by Rod Laver and Roy Emerson.
“I played probably the best match of the tournament,” said Nadal. “I am very happy with the way I played tonight.”
While Federer was able to successfully implement serve-and-volley tactics against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round and Andy Murray in the quarterfinals, he was not able to find the same success against Nadal, winning only 23 of 42 points at the net, frequently watching Nadal blast passing shots or force volley errors. Against Murray, Federer won 74 percent of points at the net (49/66) while he won 83 percent of net points (34/41) against Tsonga.