RAFA Nadal said playing Roger Federer always brings the best out of him after he bludgeoned his way past the Swiss to reach the final of the Australian Open.
In breezy conditions inside Rod Laver Arena, Nadal romped to a 7-6 (7-4), 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,” said the Spaniard. “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 that semi-final against Roger.
“He arrived to that 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 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, who will be going for his 14th grand slam title, 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’s 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 that 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 tomorrow, 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 deserves it. He’s playing better and better every year.
“He’s serving unbelievable. He’s hitting the ball very strong from the baseline. 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.”
Federer, meanwhile, still believes his best tennis is ahead of him, despite his defeat to Nadal. “It’s very encouraging, no doubt,” said the 32-year-old. “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 only ahead of me right now. 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.”
Feeding off the influence of coach Stefan Edberg, who joined his team at the beginning of the year, Federer said he planned to take the game to Nadal and move forward at every opportunity. But Nadal, who shrugged off a nasty blister on his left hand, was too strong, too persistent and too good.
“He did a good job,” Federer said. “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.”
Federer said he was pleased how he had been able to play freely over the whole tournament, having struggled with a back problem for much of 2013. “What I like to do is I like to take it to the guy, I like to be in command,” he said. “That’s what I was able to do now the last couple of weeks, so that’s very encouraging. That’s why I’m not too disappointed tonight because I feel it’s been a good start.
“I’ve come from far back. I didn’t have surgery like Murray had or like Rafa, being out seven months. But I played with something that has been going on for a while. This is a step in the right direction. I have a belief this could be a very good year for me again.”