Rafael Nadal is looking to win his second Australian Open title.
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Roger Federer lost to Rafael Nadal in four sets in the Aussie Open semifinals.
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By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
MELBOURNE, Australia - The debate over who is the greatest player of all time (GOAT) will rage into eternity, as it is very difficult to compare eras, and also hard to say whether one man is playing in his true prime and another is not.
But that said, Rafael Nadal's 18-9 head-to-head record against his rival Roger Federer now puts the Swiss status as the GOAT in question, even though Federer owns a record 16 Grand Slam titles and a number of other high marks.
On Thursday night in the Australian semifinals, Nadal toppled Federer 6-7 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (5), 6-4 in an incredibly dramatic contest where the Swiss did have his chances, but he was unable once again to penetrate the Spaniard's steely armor.
Federer whipped forehands, charged the net, tried to jump off returns, ran to and fro, changed up his speeds and when his back was against the wall in the last set, he played hyper aggressive.
But it was all for naught because once again Nadal was too strong for him from the baseline, passed him repeatedly in the clutch, dominated the court with his left-handed forehand and kept him off his back with a very efficient serving day, winning 77 of his first serve points.
The crowd in Rod Laver Arena tried to will Federer through the match, but in the final game, the Swiss was unable to capitalize on two break points and finally on the final point of the match, Nadal forced him into a forehand error.
"I always think he plays a bit better against me than against other players, but that's good for him," Federer said.
Federer had come into match on a 25-match winning streak and was once again many analysts pre-tournament favorite, but he couldn't put all the pieces together against Nadal. But he was by no mean depressed.
"I haven't lost in five months or something [since his US Open semifinal defeat to ,Novak Djokovic]," he said. "It's not that bad. Don't feel too sorry for me. Obviously I would have loved to have come through and gotten a crack, a chance at winning the title here again. It's been one of the most successful tournaments in my life here. It's the ninth time I am in the semifinals. Clearly I'm disappointed. But then again, important is the reaction from now,. Where do I go from here? Start planning the preparations, and have a good reaction like I showed after the US Open."
The statistics told the tale of the three hour, 42 minute contest: Nadal nailed 36 winners, forced Federer into 47 errors and committed only 34 unforced errors, giving him a plus 49 differential on the evening. Federer smoked 46 winners, forced Nadal into 50 errors, but committed 63 unforced errors, only a plus 26.
That both men ended with significant plusses shows the high quality of the match, but Federer was not advantageous enough, converting only three of 10 breakpoint opportunities, while Nadal cashed in on six of 16.
Nadal has consistently called Federer the GOAT and will likely do it until he retires. The 10-time Grand Slam champion is a humble sort and rarely calls attention upon himself, unless he's racing past the doubles alley, hooking an impossible passing shot down the line and fist pumping like he won a billion dollar lottery.
But no other players who are in the GOAT discussion have such a negative record against their primary rivals as Federer does against Nadal: not 14-time Grand Slam winner Pete Sampras against Andre Agassi; not Bjorn Borg against John McEnroe; not two-time calendar year Grand Slams champion Rod Laver against the other excellent Australians.
But Federer could care less about their head to head
"I respect it. I think he's doing great against me," he said. "It is what it is. At the end I care about my titles, if I'm happy or not as a person. Head to heads for me, I mean, are not the most important. If I beat Andre [Agassi] 10 times in a row or Lleyton [Hewitt] many times in a row, at the end of the day I don't care. I remember the matches on that given day, that I played well against them or not, and I don't remember the head to head that much. All I know is that we've played many times, and either comes my way or his way. Rallies have gone a little bit more his way obviously."
Putting that discussion aside, Nadal has another task in mind: trying to win his second Australian title. He'll play the winner of the match between No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 4 Andy Murray. He has all but owned the Scot at the majors, but the Serbian is another matter: Djokovic beat him in six 2011 finals, including three times on U.S. hard courts at Indian Wells, Miami and the US Open. He says he is improving by playing further inside the court, and his performance in the final will put that statement to the test.
"I happy about how I am doing," Nadal said. "For moments I am playing a little bit like before but when I am able to play inside, to play aggressive, I think the things are working fantastic. I don't know if it's gonna be enough against Novak or against Andy. But what can I say? I gonna try my best to try to play a fantastic final, and hopefully I will have my chances.
"But if the opponents play better than me and he beat me, I gonna go home very happy about my tournament," he added. "I gonna go home knowing that the way that I am working is working very well, and keep working on this way. Probably this way give me a good success in the next months."