Rafa Nadal ruthless, swipes Federer aside
Unfancied Stanislas Wawrinka stands between Rafael Nadal and another slice of tennis history after the world No.1 heaped yet more grand slam misery on Roger Federer on Friday night.
Clubbing winner after winner in a devastating display of power and precision, Nadal crushed Federer 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 6-3 in their much-hyped Australian Open semi-final at Melbourne Park.
The two-hour, 24-minute masterclass repeated his victory over Federer in the 2012 semi-finals and maintained the Spaniard's seven-year hold over the Swiss in matches that matter most.
Victory also improved Nadal's overall head-to-head dominance over his career-long friend and foe to a lopsided 23 and 10.
The 27-year-old is now just one tantalising win away from joining Rod Laver as only the second man in 45 years of professional tennis to claim all four grand slam singles titles at least twice.
He can also join Pete Sampras in second place on the all-time grand slam leaderboard with 14 majors, just three shy of Federer's benchmark 17 after raising his game to supreme levels once more against the mighty Swiss.
"I think I played the best match of the tournament tonight. If I didn't, I think it would be impossible to win against Roger," Nadal said.
"Playing with Roger is a very special feeling. He's probably the opponent that when I go on the court I have very, very emotional feelings.
"We've played a lot of times for important things in our careers and today was another important match.
"He's a great champion."
Federer's defeat means Wawrinka will supplant the 32-year-old from his 14-year standing as Swiss No 1.
But unbeaten in 12 encounters with Wawrinka, Nadal will be an overwhelming favourite on Sunday night to secure a second Open crown and climb another rung up the ladder among the pantheon of greats.
"I never thought about having 13 grand slam titles," he modestly said.
"I never thought about having 14. The only thing I can say is I'll try my best."
With his childhood idol and now coach Stefan Edberg watching on, Federer tried everything to reverse his run of outs against his Spanish nemesis.
He served and volleyed, he chipped and charged, he rushed the net and went for broke.
But, in the end, it was again an all-too-familiar tale, with Nadal's brutal forehand overpowering Federer's elegant but errant backhand.
As Nadal bludgeoned almost twice as many winners to Federer, the Swiss sprayed 50 unforced errors.
Nadal hasn't lost to Federer at a major since the 2007 Wimbledon final and his latest triumph might prompt a re-think from Sampras about where the two tennis titans rank among the modern-day greats.
Before taking his seat at Rod Laver Arena to watch the pair slug it out for the first time live, Sampras said Federer still had "the numbers" to be considered No 1.
But not even a nasty blister on the palm of his left hand, right where he holds his racquet, could slow Nadal's march to the final.
"After missing last year for me, it's really really emotional for me to be back on this court, Rod Laver Arena, and to be able to play in another final," Nadal said.
Nadal has never even dropped a set against Wawrinka, but the top seed is refusing to under-estimate the 28-year-old after his stunning quarter-final ousting of defending champion Novak Djokovic.
"He played fantastic matches against Novak and (Tomas) Berdych," Nadal said.
"He should come to this final with big confidence."