Melbourne: Rafa Nadal said playing Roger Federer always brings the best out of him after he bludgeoned his way past the Swiss on Friday to reach the final of the Australian Open.
In breezy conditions inside Rod Laver Arena, Nadal romped to a 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-3 victory — his 23rd in their 33 meetings — to set up a final against another Swiss, Stanislas Wawrinka.
“I played a lot of times against him and a lot of times I played great against him,” the Spaniard told reporters. “So probably that’s why I had this success against him.
“I think I played probably my best match of the tournament. Great news that I played my best match in the semi-final against Rogerů He arrived to the match winning two great matches against (Jo-Wilfried) Tsonga and Andy (Murray) two days ago. I’m very happy the way I played tonight and it’s a very special moment to be in another final.”
Former world No.1 Federer, who will now drop to eighth in the rankings, took the attack to Nadal in the first set, trying to get to the net and impose his game on the Spaniard.
But Nadal was up to the task throughout, ripping passing shots for winners on both sides and once he had won the first-set tiebreak, he never looked back. The world No.1 admitted his game-plan was clear against Federer but said executing it under pressure was far from easy.
“Every time I go on court, I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I will be able to do it or if he will give me the chance to play the way that I want to play,” he said.
“What happened in the past probably will not help me. I take every match like a different history and every day is different. Sure, the matches that I won against him in the past helps to make me feel confident in the way that I have to play, but that doesn’t mean that I will have the chance to do it again. Even if we played each other 32 times before this one and I was able to win against him 22, I go on court knowing that I am playing against a player who is unbelievable.”
Nadal has not dropped a set to Wawrinka in their 12 previous meetings, but though the Swiss will be appearing in his first Grand Slam final on Sunday, the top seed said he expected an extremely tough battle.
“I saw him play against Novak (Djokovic) and I saw him play against (Tomas) Berdych,” he said. “He’s playing great. He’s a good friend, great guy. So, happy for him that he’s in the final. He’s playing better and better every year. If I am not able to play my best, I think I will not have chances, because he’s coming to this match with a lot of victories and playing great.”
A defiant Federer, however, said he still believes his best tennis is ahead of him.
“Wish I could have won here tonight and given an all-Swiss final. That’s something I’ll regret for a long time. But I think this is a very good start to the season for me overall. I played some really good tennis here. I still feel my best tennis is ahead of me right now,” the 32-year-old said.
“So I’m looking forward to the next couple of months, how they’re going to play out and hopefully by April, I feel like I’m going to be at 100 per cent again.”
Speaking on Nadal, he said: “He did a good job. He didn’t make many errors, even though I was trying to hit hard and flat. I tried to play my game. Sometimes I did play very well and sometimes I didn’t. But he overall was more consistent. He deserved to win tonight. I mean, he was better.”
Federer said he had handed the advantage to Nadal by not doing enough on his return games and needed to win the first set to impose his will.
“If you get the lead at least in the first or second set, at one point maybe I can also play a bit more freely, do a bit more what I was hoping to do, play a bit more aggressive,” he said.
“I tried a few things but Rafa does a good job of neutralising you. At times, I couldn’t quite do what I wanted to do, but that’s because of Rafa.”