Friday, January 27, 2017

Nadal tops Dimitrov in thriller, will face Federer

Rafael Nadal reached his first Grand Slam final since winning the 2014
French Open for his 14th major singles title. 2015 photo by Paul Bauman
   Welcome to the Retro Open.
   Venus vs. Serena in their first Grand Slam final in eight years. 
  Roger vs. Rafa in their first major title match in six years.
   Who will the chair umpires be, Doc Brown and Marty McFly?
   Rafael Nadal, seeded No. 9, completed the matchups with a stirring 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4 victory over No. 15 Grigor Dimitrov in 4 hours, 56 minutes today in the Australian Open in Melbourne.
   Dimitrov had opened the year with 10 consecutive victories. The 25-year-old Bulgarian won Brisbane for his fifth ATP World Tour title.
   Of the four singles finalists, Nadal is the only one under 35, and he's no youngster at 30.
   "It's special to play with Roger again in a final of a Grand Slam," Nadal told reporters. "I cannot lie. It's great. It's exciting for me and for both of us that we are still there and we are still fighting for important events. So that's important for us, I think. That's very special."
   Nadal, who had been plagued by injuries and a subsequent loss of confidence, reached his first Grand Slam final since winning the 2014 French Open for his 14th major singles title. He added fellow Mallorcan and former world No. 1 Carlos Moya to his coaching team at the end of last year. Moya had been working with world No. 3 Milos Raonic.
   The women's final is scheduled for Saturday at 12:30 a.m. California time, and the men's final is set for Sunday at the same time. ESPN will televise the matches. Unfairly, Federer, who beat Swiss compatriot Stan Wawrinka in five sets in the semifinals, has two days to rest and Nadal one.
Federer won the last of his record 17 Grand Slam singles titles
at Wimbledon in 2012. 2015 photo by Paul Bauman
   Federer, 35, is playing in his first official tournament since losing to Raonic in the Wimbledon semifinals last July. Federer was out with a knee injury.
   Nadal has a 23-11 record against Federer with five victories in their last six matches. Nadal leads 6-2 in Grand Slam finals (4-0 on clay in the French Open) and 3-0 in Australian Open matches, including a 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-2 victory in the 2009 final.
   This will be the first meeting between the superstars since Federer won 6-3, 5-7, 6-3 on an indoor hardcourt in the final of Federer's hometown tournament in Basel in October 2015. It will be their first matchup in a Grand Slam final since Nadal triumphed in four sets in the 2011 French Open.
   Federer won the last of his record 17 Grand Slam singles titles at Wimbledon in 2012. Nadal is tied with Pete Sampras for second place with 14.
   Serena Williams, meanwhile, is even with Steffi Graf for the Open Era mark of 22 Grand Slam singles titles. The Open Era began in 1968, when professionals were admitted to Grand Slam tournaments. Margaret Court holds the all-time record of 24.
   Venus, who was diagnosed with an energy-sapping autoimmune disease in 2011, will be playing in her first Grand Slam final since losing to Serena at Wimbledon in 2009. Venus has won seven major singles titles, most recently Wimbledon in 2008.
   The sisters have combined to win five singles titles in the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford. Venus triumphed in 2000 and 2002, and Serena prevailed in 2011, 2012 and 2014.
   Serena, 35, is 16-11 against Venus, 36. Their meetings are halfhearted affairs because neither wants to beat the other. Look for Serena to put on a dramatic show about how hard she's fighting but, consciously or subconsciously, let Venus win one last Grand Slam title. Serena will have more chances to surpass Graf and Court.
   Venus will win in three sets, giving the match the illusion of being competitive. Memo to Venus and Serena: For what's left of your careers, do everyone a favor and don't play in the same tournaments. You can alternate Slams. Thank you.

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