Quarterfinal: Rafael Nadal def. Grigor Dimitrov 3-6 7-6(3) 7-6(7) 6-2
Nadal’s draw at the Australian Open first seemed tough. With the elimination of Del Potro, it seemed easier. After the matches against Nishikori and now Dimitrov, we have to agree, he was tested just the same anyway. An error-prone Nadal, far from his superior form two matches ago against Monfils, and a Dimitrov who came in with a purpose, made for an exciting quarterfinal. Nadal had to grind his way out of this one, and that is exactly what he did.
As expected, Dimitrov came firing on all cylinders and raced to a 3-0 lead in a blink of an eye. Aces and forehands whizzed past Nadal, and he got on the board only in the fourth game. Dimitrov continued to impress, as he held serve even when being pushed on his single handed backhand. Nadal started holding serves comfortably too, but he couldn’t push Dimitrov enough to get a break. After a nervous start while serving for the set, Dimitrov fired aces to take the first 6-3.
It was Nadal’s turn to start the set strong and he did, holding serve and breaking Dimitrov. But then, his serve was way off the standards he had set this tournament and, to everyone’s surprise, he double faulted three times in the game to concede the break back. At 2-2, something strange happened. After winning a spirited point (not a game point), Nadal let out a roar and fist pumped his way back to the baseline. If you were a Nadal fan, goosebumps were guaranteed when you saw that. That game was crucial, and Nadal knew it.
If Dimitrov was intimidated by that, he didn’t show it. He played some terrific shots of his own, and made Nadal work for each and every point. In short, he was pushing Nadal to the limit the “Big 4” do. The set continued to be tight and tense and it became increasingly clear that it was headed for a tie break. And it did. Nadal started well, but again, Dimitrov was pushing him. After a few errors from his racquet and a few winners from Nadal, he stood at set point. And he won the set with a classic flick after running to retrieve the ball at the net from the baseline. His celebration after winning the set was reminiscent of his celebration when he won the third set against Djokovic in the US Open.
It was interesting to see how Dimitrov would bounce back from this. He didn’t play a bad set, but played a bad tie break. Both men held their opening games, and Nadal tested Dimitrov in the third. Dimitrov responded well, by stepping up in the court and pushing Nadal to either side. 2-2. Nadal stepped up in the fifth game. This is why Nadal is one of the most, if not the most intelligent player on tour. He pushed Dimitrov back, attacked his backhand relentlessly, made some excellent cross court shots and then a backhand error gave Nadal the break. Dimitrov’s serving level dipped, and Nadal seized the opportunity. Dimitrov held his own, and Nadal was suddenly facing break points again. Dimitrov didn’t do much to gain them though, Nadal made a string of errors. A love hold followed, and from 2-4, Dimitrov was up 5-4.
The set went into a tie break again, and Nadal played it incredibly well, again. He used the net effectively, coming in to close the points quickly. One rally at 2-1 in the tie-breaker was spectacular, with Nadal running back and forth till Dimitrov hit it long. After having two mini-breaks in the set, Nadal faltered yet again, with some missed forehands. Dimitrov had set point, but Nadal didn’t let go. It was neck tight, until Dimitrov finally gave in, hitting a forehand long to give Nadal the set.
There was a feeling among the viewers watching that Nadal wasn’t going to drag this game again in the fourth set. After holding serve, he put the kitchen sink at Dimitrov. What followed was the longest game in the match yet, and after a see-saw of deuce and advantage points, it was Nadal who came triumphant, with yet another superb winner. Nadal held serve somewhat comfortably afterwards, some double faults and forehand errors did creep in once in a while. Clearly, Nadal wasn’t at his best, but it was a question on everyone’s minds, that how much of it was influenced by Dimitrov and what part was due to his nasty blister.
As the game progressed, we could observe Dimitrov was tired as Nadal grew stronger. Soon, Nadal was up 5-2 and had three match points. Dimitrov saved two with impressive shots and Nadal blew one with another missed forehand. He finally got the victory when Dimitrov hit another shot long, and you could see the relief on his face, and his team. This match was always going to be tough, and, though he struggled, he made it through.
Nadal faces the only other Australian Open winner remaining in both draws – Roger Federer. No matter what happens, tennis will be the winner in that semifinals.