Rafael Nadal continued his dominant streak over Roger Federer to reach the Australian Open final for the third time, beating the 17-time major winner 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-3 Friday night to set up a championship decider against No. 8-seeded Stan Wawrinka.
With his 23rd win in 33 matches against Federer, the 27-year-old Spaniard set up an ideal chance to win a 14th Grand Slam title and to become the first man to win all four majors at least twice in the Open era.
In mixed doubles semifinal play, Toronto's Daniel Nestor and Kristina Mladenovic of France defeated Zheng Jie of China and American Scott Lipsky 6-3, 6-1. Nestor and Mladenovic will face India's Sania Mirza and Horia Tecau of Romania in the final.
Nadal missed the 2013 Australian Open during a seven-month layoff for illness and a knee injury, but returned to win the French and U.S. Opens among his 10 titles for the season and finished the year at No. 1. He won the Australian Open in 2009, beating Federer in the final, and lost in a five-set, five-hour, 53-minute 2012 final to Novak Djokovic after ousting Federer in the semis. In other years, he's struggled with injuries — it's the only Grand Slam tournament he hasn't won at least twice.
"It's really, really emotional for me to be back on this court, Rod Laver Arena, and to be able to play another final," Nadal said. "I think tonight I played the best match of the tournament. I go on court [against Federer] knowing that is a really tough match and if I am not playing my best, I will not have the chance to win."
At the end of the night, Federer knew he wouldn't even be the No. 1-ranked player in Switzerland next week. By reaching the final, Wawrinka ensured he'd replace Federer as their country's highest-ranked player for the first time.
Nadal missed the 2013 Australian Open during a seven-month layoff for illness and a knee injury, but returned to win the French and U.S. Opens among his 10 titles for the season and finished the year at No. 1.
"It's really, really emotional for me to be back on this court, Rod Laver Arena, and to be able to play another final," Nadal said. Rod Laver was in the crowd, and so was Sampras, who said he was watching a Nadal-Federer match live for the first time.
His previous Grand Slam match against Federer was here in 2012, when he beat him in four sets in the semifinals before losing a five-set, five-hour, 53-minute final to Novak Djokovic.
Nadal is now second on the list of players reaching Grand Slam finals, joining Ivan Lendl on 19 -- Federer leads the list with 24, but hasn't figured in a major final since winning Wimbledon in 2012. He hasn't beaten Nadal in a Grand Slam match since 2007 but after holding off Wimbledon champion Andy Murray in the quarterfinals, and with new coach Stefan Edberg helping fine tune his game, Federer was more confident this time in an arena where he's won the title four times.
Nadal has struggled with a blister on the palm of his left hand in his last two matches, but he removed the heavy tape that affected his serve in his quarter-final win over Grigor Dimitrov and replaced it with one square of adhesive tape. A TV camera got a close-up view of the blister when he took a medical timeout after the first game of the second set, drawing gasps and groans from the crowd.
"Too much talk about the blister. The blister is OK," Nadal said in his on-court interview. "The problem … is the position of the blister, it's difficult." But, he said, he didn't feel any pain.
He served and volleyed, he played with good touch, he played drop shots, he tried everything, but his 50 resulting unforced errors were double Nadal's 25.
Nadal hit 13 of his 28 winners on his powerful left forehand, attacking Federer's one-handed backhand yet again.
"I tried a few things … then again, Rafa does a good job of neutralizing you," Federer said. "So I guess at times I couldn't quite do what I wanted to do, but that's because of Rafa."
Nadal beat Federer here in 2009 for his only Australian Open title -- he's won every other major at least twice. Clearly, he lifts for matches with his oldest rival.
The crowd was overwhelmingly behind the 32-year-old Federer, growing more animated the further he fell behind. There was a huge cheer when Federer won a challenge on a call to hold and make it 2-all in the second set after facing break point. The first break of the match came in the sixth game of the second set, giving Nadal a 4-2 lead.
Federer then got a standing ovation and a giant roar from the crowd when he broke Nadal back to make it 2-all in the third set, immediately after dropping serve in the previous game.
The crowd chanted, "Let's Go Roger," until Federer was ready to serve again. He was broke again soon after.
Nadal has struggled with a blister on the palm of his left hand in his last two matches, but he removed the heavy tape that affected his serve in his quarterfinal win over Grigor Dimitrov. A TV camera got a close-up view of the blister when he took a medical timeout after the first game of the second set, drawing gasps and groans from the crowd.
"Too much talk about the blister. The blister is OK," Nadal said in his on-court interview. "The problem ... is the position of the blister, it's difficult.
"We tried to make the bandage a little bit less, shorter than the other day."
Wawrinka beat Tomas Berdych in four sets on Thursday night to reach his first major final, getting an extra day off ahead of Sunday's championship match.
Canada's Nestor in mixed doubles final
Toronto's Daniel Nestor and French partner Kristina Mladenovic won their Australian Open mixed doubles semifinal on Friday, defeating China's Zheng Jie and American Scott Lipsky 6-3, 6-1.
The victory took 55 minutes and sends the 41-year-old Toronto native into his third mixed final in Australia after capturing titles in 2007 and 2011.
Nestor and Mladovic will face Sania Mirza and Romanian Horia Tecau in Sunday's final. The sixth-ranked Indian pair defeated the Australian duo of Jarmila Gajdosova and Matthew Ebden 2-6, 6-3 (10-2).
Nestor is bidding for his fourth mixed trophy and his second with Mladovic. They won at Wimbledon last summer after a runner-up showing at the French Open.
"Playing with Kristina is great, she's a great partner, the best I've never had," said Nestor, "I'm sure she is the best female mixed player out there."
"I just hope we can continue it in the final. We are serving well."
The first ended with a break. Nestor's side took an early lead in the second set with a break and raced to 5-1 lead on the way to victory.
Nestor and Mladovic recorded 17 winners and just eight unforced errors in a polished performance.
Nestor won a Melbourne mixed crown in 2007 with Elena Likhovtseva captured the title three years ago with Slovenian Katerina Srebotnik.
The Canadian veteran and Mladovic beat Miraza and Tecau at Wimbledon last summer on the way to their title together.
"They can play well, Mirza has won some mixed titles and Tecau has been a top 10 player for the last few seasons," said Nestor.