Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will meet in a grand slam final for the first time in six years after the Spaniard's thrilling Australian Open semi-final win over Grigor Dimitrov.
Nadal, 30, reaches his first major final since the 2014 French Open after seeing off Dimitrov in an absorbing five sets, sealing a 6-3 5-7 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 at the Rod Laver Arena.
Like Federer, reaching Sunday's final marks a remarkable comeback for the 14-time grand slam champion after lengthy battles with a persistent wrist injury that dates back three years. Their reunion provides a thoroughly retro feel to Sunday's final in Melbourne, with Nadal and Federer set to renew one of tennis' greatest modern rivalries – perhaps for one last time.
The two icons of the sport have won 31 major singles titles between them – with Federer chasing a record-breaking 18<sup>th. The 35-year-old booked his place in the final after victory in an all-Swiss semi-final over Stanislas Wawrinka on Thursday. But in order to join him, Nadal had to overcome the man once dubbed "Baby Fed" in Dimitrov.
A breathless start saw Nadal forced to save two break points but midway way through the opening set, the Spaniard picked his spot to send a measured forehand down the line out of Dimitrov's reach to secure the first break of the match, holding to love without missing a beat. Fighting to save the opener, the Bulgarian nailed a fine backhand down the line but Nadal swiftly stamped out hope of a comeback as he served out for the set with a vicious volley inside 35 minutes.
Dimitrov responded superbly in the second, overwhelming Nadal in the opening games and forcing three break points before breaking to love with a vicious forehand. That only served to anger Nadal, who forced a break of his own, only to open the door back open for Dimitrov after an uncharacteristic double fault. Dimitrov obliged, and broke again to lead 5-3, but an absorbing second set took another twist when he horribly miscued a return, lifting it well clear of the baseline to allow Nadal to break back once again. With a tie-breaker inevitable, Dimitrov held his nerve and convert his fifth break point to level the contest.
While looking slightly jaded, the two continued to go blow to for blow in the third until the fifth game when Dimitrov overshot a forearm, inviting a break from Nadal. But again, the Bulgarian broke back in the very next game. With each man holding serve, another end-to-end tie breaker followed but when Dimitrov over shot another forehand, Nadal secured another decisive mini-break, sending his opponent scurrying across the court until he could only plant an exhausted return into the net to hand the third set to his opponent.
Dimitrov's attempts to overwhelm the Spaniard early in the fourth set wilted and could not find the next break needed to halt Nadal's march towards Sunday's final. A 21-shot rally ended when Dimitrov clipped the top of the net, allowing the 2009 champion to take a 6-5 lead, only to be hauled back yet again to force the third tie-break of the contest. Needing something special to force the fifth set, a string of mammoth serves pushed him over the line and rescue another chance for himself from the jaws of defeat.
With each man again holding serve looking for one more more precious break, it was Nadal who found the breakthrough in the ninth, setting him up to serve out for the match and leave him on a collision course with Federer on Sunday.
Nadal said: "It's difficult to describe my emotions. I was happy to be a part of it, the crowd was just amazing, huge support in both weeks. To qualify for a final means a lot to me. You have some tough moments, last year was tough for me, so I worked a lot at home for a month and a half but I never dreamed to be back in this final. I feel lucky and very happy."
On playing his long-time rival Roger Federer in the final Nadal said: "It's a very special thing for both of us to be in a final again after we both had some problems with injuries last year."