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Nadal outlasts Verdasco in epic semis

Match lasts five hours and 14 minutes — the longest in the tournament’s history

MELBOURNE: Rafael Nadal survived a record five-set battle with fellow Spanish left-hander Fernando Verdasco to set up a classic Australian Open final with arch-rival Roger Federer on Friday. Nadal lost his first sets of the tournament but showed incredible resilience to win the epic 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-5(2), 6-7(1), 6-4 over five hours and 14 minutes, the longest match in the tournament’s history.

“Right now I feel more happy than tired,” Nadal told the crowd. “For sure it’s going to be a tough final. But it was amazing for me to play that match here. It was one of the best matches of my career.”

On Sunday, Nadal will play his seventh Grand Slam final against Federer, who could equal Pete Sampras’s record for Grand Slam titles. Nadal, who beat Federer at both the Roland Garros and Wimbledon finals last year, holds a 4-2 edge in summit clashes with Federer.

The Open’s previous longest match was Boris Becker’s 1991 win over Omar Camporese, which lasted five hours and 11 minutes. The duration of Friday’s match also surpassed Nadal’s epic Wimbledon final with Federer last year (four hours and 48 minutes), and equalled his longest ever match (five hours 14 minutes against Guillermo Coria in the 2005 Rome final).

High quality

In a semifinal of remarkable quality, Verdasco looked to have thrown the first set away when he smashed a routine overhead out on his only break point at 2-2.

But he saved break points at 5-5 and edged the tie-break, helped by a huge stroke of luck when a ball which was heading out caught the net and bounced in.

Nadal was rattled but he forced break points at 4-3 in the second and broke for the set when Verdasco went long. With fatigue setting in, both were broken twice in the third before Verdasco sprayed errors to hand over the tie-break.

Nadal was on the ascendancy and Verdasco was struggling as he twice took treatment to his left lower leg, but he quickly recovered and dominated a rousing tie-break 7-1 in the fourth.

It was a fight to the finish and Verdasco saved five break points in the decider before crumbling at 4-5 as he double-faulted on Nadal’s third match point.

“It’s going to be a little bit tough on Sunday. Roger had today off and only three sets in his semifinal so now, for sure, he’s the favourite,” added Nadal. “But I’ll try my best.”

Both Nadal and Verdasco are strapping left-handers from Spain, but their careers have been vastly different.

While Nadal is seeking his sixth Grand Slam title, Verdasco had never been past the fourth round at a Major before this tournament.

Nadal added eight titles last year to take his career total to 31 while Verdasco’s only successes have been in Valencia in 2004 and Umag last year.

But his finest moment came when he subdued fierce partisan crowds in Buenos Aires and Argentina’s Jose Acasuso over five sets to seal the Davis Cup title, with Nadal out injured.

Gallant in defeat

A gallant Verdasco was gracious in defeat, saying it was a match he would remember for the rest of his life.

“I’m sad to play a match like this and lose but I am also very proud of myself for the match I played and how I have done in this tournament,” he said. “Both of us played unbelievable. I will have this match in my mind for the rest of my life.”

Verdasco has credited his strong showing to the work he did pre-season in Las Vegas with boyhood idol Andre Agassi’s old mentor Gil Reyes. Pumped on adrenaline, he pushed Nadal to the limit, hitting 95 winners to Nadal’s 52.

But he also committed 76 unforced errors to his opponent’s 25. “Tennis is like that sometimes, what can you do?” he said. “Both of us had a lot of chances.”

Verdasco and Nadal are close friends and his worry now is that his countryman won’t be at his best against Roger Federer in Sunday’s final.

“It is a pity for Rafa that he had to play such a long match ahead of the final when Roger only played three sets,” he said. “I want him to be 100 per cent to play in the final. I lost, but he is a big friend and I hope he wins on Sunday. I wish him all the best.”

Verdasco had never been past the fourth round of a Grand Slam in 22 previous attempts, but said that after beating Acasuso to give Spain the Davis Cup in Argentina last November he believed he could do anything.

The Williamses win

Serena and Venus Williams won their eighth Grand Slam doubles title and their third title here when they beat Ai Sugiyama and Daniela Hantuchova 6-3, 6-3 for the women’s doubles title.

Venus and Serena, who also won here in 2001 and 2003, kept intact their record of never having lost a doubles final at a Grand Slam.

They are now tied with Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez as the third most successful Grand Slam women’s team in the Open era, behind Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver with 21 and Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva with 14.

“I think we complement each other on the court because we’re both extremely positive,” Venus said. “We know when the other one moves, what the other one needs to do to compensate for that or to add to it.”

THE RESULTS

Men’s singles: Semifinals: 1-Rafael Nadal bt 14-Fernando Verdasco 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-6(2), 6-7(1), 6-4.

Women’s doubles: Final: 10-Serena & Venus Williams bt 9-Daniela Hantuchova & Ai Sugiyama 6-3, 6-3.

Mixed doubles: Semifinals: Sania Mirza & Mahesh Bhupathi bt Iveta Benesova & Lukas Dlouhy 6-4, 6-1.

Boys singles: Semifinals: 1-Yuki Bhambri bt Adrien Puget 6-4, 6-4; Alexandros-Ferdinandos Georgoudas bt 2-Julen Uriguen 6-4, 6-4.

Boys doubles: Semifinals: 7-Francis Casey Alcantara & Hsieh Cheng-peng bt Maximilian Neuchrist & Tristan-Samuel Weissborn 7-6(4), 6-4; Mikhal Biryukov & Yasutaka Uchiyama bt 1-Yuki Bhambri & Huang Liang-chi 6-3, 6-1. — Agencies

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