Rafael Nadal storms into Australian Open final to close in on record 21st major title

Spaniard defeats Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 on Friday and will take on Daniil Medvedev in the final

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Rafa Nadal moved one step closer to a men's record 21st Grand Slam title after defeating Italian seventh seed Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 on Friday to reach the Australian Open final.

A win for Nadal in Sunday's final against Daniil Medvedev will break a three-way tie with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer and give him sole ownership of the record for most Grand Slam singles titles.

Nadal made a fast start under the closed roof of the Rod Laver Arena, with heavy rain outside, and took control by breaking Wimbledon finalist Berrettini's serve early in each of the first two sets.

Berrettini finally came alive in the third and started forcing Nadal back with his forehands, a break of serve forcing a fourth set. The Spaniard got the crucial break in the eighth game as the Italian's unforced errors increased and another mistake allowed Nadal to convert his first match-point after a battle that lasted two hours and 55 minutes.

The 35-year-old, whose only Australian Open title came back in 2009, said: "I started the match playing great, first two sets have been one of the best since a long time.

"I know how good is Matteo. In the third I knew at some point he's going to go for the shots. I think I didn't play a good game with my serve but he played some great shots.

"Then we need to suffer and we need to fight. That's the only way to be where I am today. It means a lot to me to be in the final again here."

“For me, it’s all about the Australian Open more than anything else,” Nadal said in his on-court interview. “I have been a little unlucky [here] in my career with some injuries. I played some amazing finals with good chances.

“I feel very lucky that I won once. I never though about another chance in 2022.”

Having pushed through a five-set contest with Denis Shapovalov in the quarter-finals, there were doubts over how well Nadal would have recovered.

However, Berrettini began nervously in his third grand slam semi-final and found his weaker backhand exploited by Nadal.

Berrettini, the beaten finalist at Wimbledon last year, did not manage to apply any pressure for two sets but in the third things slowly began to turn.

The Italian had played Nadal once before, at the US Open in 2019, and had not created a break point. Finally he managed it in the eighth game of their sixth set.

Berrettini has one of the biggest forehands in the game and a memorable running pass helped him to 0-40 before he clinched the break with another winner.

Nadal had been dominant against Shapovalov at two sets to love up before things became complicated, and the sixth seed was looking less sharp physically early in the fourth.

He dug deep to stay on track and, when he sensed an opening on the Berrettini serve, he pounced, the Italian saving one break point at 3-4 after the rally of the match only to dump a forehand in the net on the second.

Daniil Medvedev, left, of Russia defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece. AP

Meanwhile, Medvedev will fought his way onto final after a stirring victory over Greek fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The Russian world No2 reached the Australian Open decider for the second year in succession by defeating Tsitsipas 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.

Should Medvedev defeat the Spanish great, he will become the first man in the Open era to win his first two Grand Slam titles in succession after his triumph in New York last September.

The Russian denied Novak Djokovic the calendar Grand Slam in the US Open final and will now seek to stop Nadal from setting an all-time men's record.

It was an ill-tempered second semi-final. Medvedev was in a fiery mood and given a code warning after raging at the chair umpire during his clash with fourth seed Tsitsipas, whose father Apostolos was also given a warning for coaching from the player's box before inadvertently helping trigger his son's collapse.

Later, Tsitsipas said he is unfairly targetted by officials over on-court coaching and said that it should be allowed anyway. Tsitsipas had also received a similar warning during his third-round win over Benoit Paire at Melbourne Park.

"I wasn't," the 23-year-old told reporters when asked if he was being coached. "I cannot hear anything when I'm playing. It's impossible. Having the crowd being so loud in every single point, you have to have super hearing to be able to hear what your coach says.

"I'm used to it. They've been targeting me already a long time. I feel like I've gotten a few in the past, and the umpires are always paying attention to my box, never paying attention to the opponent's box. I feel I have been a victim of that for a long time now.

"I went out publicly on one of my social media platforms and said that I think coaching should be allowed, simply because coaches do it anyway. Most of them get away with it, and they do it pretty smartly, I can tell you."

Updated: January 28, 2022, 1:22 PM
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