RAFAEL Nadal cut an emotional figure on court after his semi-final victory
Rafael Nadal overcame a stern test from Matteo Berrettini to reach his sixth Australian Open final in Melbourne.
The 35-year-old remains on track to win a record 21st Grand Slam title in Melbourne and his first Australian Open title since 2009.
Berrettini made the world No 5 work for his victory by taking the third set and holding much of the momentum in the fourth. However, a key Nadal break at 4-3 helped the Spaniard claim a 3-6 2-6 6-3 3-6 victory.
“It means a lot to me to be in the final again here,” Nadal said on court with a smile on his face.
“For me, it’s all about the Australian Open more than anything else. It’s just an amazing event that I’ve been a little bit unlucky [at] with some injuries in my career.
“Also, I’ve played in some amazing finals with good chances against Novak Djokovic in 2012 and Roger Federer in 2017, I was close a couple of times.
“I was very lucky to win it once in my career and I never thought about having another chance in 2022, so I’ll just try and enjoy the victory today and then just try my best.”
Seventh seed Berrettini began nervously in his third Grand Slam semi-final and found his weaker backhand ruthlessly exploited by Nadal, who seemed to be cruising into the final.
Berrettini, the beaten finalist at Wimbledon last year, did not manage to apply any pressure or force his opponent to leave his comfort zone 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 breakpoint. 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 Denis Shapovalov in the quarter-final at two sets to love up, before things became extremely complicated, and the sixth seed was looking significantly less sharp physically early in the fourth.
The 20-time Grand Slam winner dug deep to stay on terms and, when he sensed an opening on the Berrettini serve, he pounced.
Berrettini saved one break point at 3-4 after the rally of the match, only to dump a forehand in the net on the second. From there, Nadal went on to secure the contest and cut an extremely emotional figure after securing victory.
After having six months out due to injury, and Nadal himself saying that those who have been close to him do not believe he is able to play at this level again, a sixth Australian Open final awaits on Sunday.