strong>MELBOURNE, Australia, January 24 – Rafael Nadal on Tuesday set up a mouth-watering Australian Open semi-final with long-time rival Roger Federer, who celebrated his 1,000th match in style by demolishing Juan Martin del Potro.
Spanish second seed Nadal was forced to dig deep to beat Tomas Berdych, battling back from a set down in the evening match on Rod Laver Arena to subdue his Czech opponent 6-7 (5/7), 7-6 (8/6), 6-4, 6-3 in 4hr 16min.
In sharp contrast, Swiss maestro Federer, chasing his fifth title in Melbourne, barely broke sweat as he dismantled his Argentine opponent 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in a rematch of the 2009 US Open final won by del Potro.
It means Federer and Nadal will clash in Melbourne again on Thursday, three years after the Spaniard, who leads their head-to-heads 17-9, reduced the Swiss to tears with a five-set win in 2009’s epic Australian Open final.
Federer, the third seed, brought up his 1,000th tour-level match with his win, which he described as a “big milestone”.
“It’s nice to win this one. I mean, eventually I will forget which was one was my 1,000th match and someone will remind me again,” said Federer, 30.
“I do not remember my 500, and that was the US Open final against Agassi (2005). No bigger matches than those ones.”
Federer started his match against del Potro in ominous fashion, unveiling his full repertoire of strokes and breaking del Potro at his first opportunity.
The tall del Potro, seeded 11th, settled and forced a break of his own in the seventh game, but a double-fault cost him the opener.
An exquisite backhand down the line gave Federer another break and a 3-1 lead in the second set, and he moved two sets clear after a tough ninth game in which he was forced to save four break points.
But that game proved a key missed opportunity for del Potro as he was again broken early in the third set, and an untroubled Federer broke again on his way to taking it 6-2.
Federer said he was aware of the dangers posed by the 6ft 6ins (198 cm) del Potro, who has climbed quickly up the rankings after an injury-raved 2010, but that he was “able to manoeuvre him” around the court.
In his evening clash, a repeat of the 2010 Wimbledon final won by Nadal, the Spanish second seed struggled to impose himself early against Berdych, losing the first set, but dug deep to win.
“I tried my best in every moment,” said Nadal. “He played very well during almost the whole match.”
He described the 2009 final against Federer as “unforgettable” after he survived the longest match in Australian Open history in the semi-finals, against Fernando Verdasco, and then went the distance again versus the Swiss.
“Seriously, that final is one of the memories that will always be in my mind,” he said.
Czech seventh seed Berdych drew first blood when he won the first-set tiebreak, but Nadal levelled after the second set also went to a breaker.
That proved to be the turning point with Nadal seizing the initiative as Berdych faded. He took the third set 6-4 and broke in the first game of the fourth set with a searing forehand winner down the line.
Berdych, whose previous match ended in boos when he refused to shake Nicolas Almagro’s hand, accusing him of aiming the ball at his face, could find no way back as Nadal sealed the win.