Rafael Nadal is one win away from a 21st men’s singles Grand Slam title after outclassing Matteo Berrettini 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3 in the Australian Open semifinals.
After enduring a five-set fight against Denis Shapovalov in the quarterfinals, there were doubts as to how well Nadal would have recovered.
The Spaniard played under the roof of the Rod Laver Arena as thunder rolled over Melbourne. The Spaniard was in full control for two sets, bouncing back from losing the third to reach his sixth Australian Open final.
The seventh-seeded Berrettini started nervously into his third Grand Slam semifinal and found his weaker backhand being ruthlessly exploited by Nadal, who appeared to be advancing to the final.
Berrettini, the finalist who lost at Wimbledon last year, failed to apply pressure or force his opponent to step out of his comfort zone for two sets, but things slowly started to turn around in the third.
The Italian had played against Nadal before, at the 2019 US Open, and failed to create a break point. Eventually, he made it in the eighth game of their sixth set.
Berrettini has one of the biggest forehands in the game and a memorable run helped him 0-40 before breaking with another winner.
Nadal had been dominant against Shapovalov in two sets to improve before things got extremely complicated and the sixth seed looked significantly less physically sharp at the start of the fourth.
Digging deep to stay level and feeling an opening on Berrettini’s serve, he lunged, the Italian saving a break point at 3-4 after the game’s rally only to net a forehand on the second throw.
Berrettini has yet to beat a top-10 opponent in a Slam and the 25-year-old clearly has areas of his game that he needs to work on, but this was Nadal’s day.
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Nadal, whose only title came back at the 2009 Australian Open, said: “I started the match great, the first two sets were one of the best in a long time.
“I know how good Matteo is. In the third, I knew he was going to get on the shots at some point. I don’t think I made a good serve with my serve, but he played some great shots.
“Then we have to suffer and we have to fight. That’s the only way I can be where I am today. It means a lot to me to be in the final again.”
About the chance to make history with his 21st Slam title, the 35-year-old said: “For me everything revolves around the Australian Open more than anything else. It’s an incredible event. I was unlucky with a few injuries and was close a couple of times. I never thought of another chance in 2022.”