Monday, May 23, 2022

Nadal reaches Australian Open final within record 1 win

MELBOURNE, Australia ( Associated Press) — Rafael Nadal is within one win of a record 21st Grand Slam singles title.

The 35-year-old Spaniard advanced to the Australian Open final for the sixth time with a 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 win over seventh-seeded Matteo Berrettini on Friday.

After the final point, Nadal stopped, flashed a wide smile and then punched him in the air three times.

Nadal arrived in Australia not knowing how long he would last after months of touring from an injured leg and then a bout of COVID-19. He left Wimbledon after losing to Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of the French Open and hasn’t played at all since August last year.

“Every day has been an issue in terms of problems on the feet. The doubt is still here … probably for the rest of my career because I have what I have and it’s something we can’t fix,” Nadal said. “But to me it’s amazing … (to) just compete and play tennis at a high level again, facing the most important players in the world.”

Nadal won the tune-up tournament and played six straight matches at the year’s first Grand Slam event.

Another he will break the record of 20 major championships shared with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Nadal will become the fourth man to win all four Grand Slam titles at least twice.

In Sunday’s championship match, he will face the winner of Friday’s latter semi-final between US Open champion Daniil Medvedev and French Open runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Nadal’s victory over Wimbledon runner-up Berrettini under a closed roof at the Rod Laver Arena due to heavy rain was his 500th victory on hard court at Tour level. He has won the Australian Open only once, in 2009.

Their only focus was to add a second after another semi-final win.

“For me, it’s about the Australian Open more than anything,” Nadal said in his on-court TV interview. “I’ve been a little unlucky in my career (here) with some injuries. I played some great finals with good chances.

He lost the classic five-set final here to Djokovic in 2012 and Federer in 2017. Nadal lost in four sets to Stan Wawrinka in 2014 and had lost to Djokovic in straight sets three years earlier.

“I feel very lucky that I won once,” he said. “I never thought of another chance in 2022.”

Nadal broke Berrettini’s opening service game in the first two sets, and after dropping the third set on a rare service lap, he rallied to finish the match in just under three hours. It was a relief in itself after a five-set long win over Denis Shapovalov in the quarterfinals two days earlier.

Nadal was the only member of the so-called Big Three to break the impasse this time in Australia.

Federer missed the tournament to recover from knee surgery. Djokovic, who won nine of his Grand Slam titles at Melbourne Park, was relegated on the eve of the tournament following an 11-day visa saga as he failed to meet Australia’s strict COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

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More Associated Press Tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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