Roger Federer’s revival gathered pace as he edged Andy Murray in a late-night dog fight to set up a blockbuster Australian Open semi-final with world No.1 Rafa Nadal who earlier on Wednesday had rode his luck to beat Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov.
Swiss Federer played sublime tennis to open a two-set lead over Murray but had to withstand a late charge from Briton before claiming a 6-3 6-4 6-7(6) 6-3 win in the first “Big Four” clash of the year.
Nadal had dug himself out of a hole to suppress an inspired Dimitrov, winning 3-6 7-6(3) 7-6(7) 6-2 after his opponent squandered a chance to win the third set.
Victoria Azarenka could only blame herself after she was earlier shown the door 6-1 5-7 6-0 by Agnieszka Radwanska to leave the Australian Open without a defending champion in the last four of either draw for the first time in the professional era.
After ending Azarenka’s hopes of a third straight title, Radwanska will face Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova, who crushed Simona Halep 6-3 6-0, to decide who meets China’s Li Na or Canadian teenager Genie Bouchard in the final.
Tomas Berdych meets Stan Wawrinka in the first men’s semi-final on Thursday. “It’s going to be a good match,” 32-year-old Federer, who had reached only one grand slam semi-final since claiming a 17th major title by beating Murray in the 2012 Wimbledon final, told reporters.
A free-flowing Federer had looked in total command against Murray until late in the third set when he served for the match at 5-4, having just broken the fourth seed’s serve. Murray broke back and forced a tiebreak and then hung in doggedly to overturn a 4-6 deficit and force a fourth set. Federer shrugged off missing his chance in an hour-long fourth set to outlast a tiring Murray and avenge his defeat in the semi-finals here last year.
Thirteen-times grand slam champion Nadal’s match with Dimitrov turned on the third set tiebreak and there was enough entertainment in those 16 points alone to justify the ticket prices. Dimitrov, desperate to shed the “Baby-Fed” tag he acquired because of his stylish game, had produced some brilliant tennis in his first grand slam quarter-final to take the first set.
Struggling to maintain his control over his racket at times because of a painful blister, Nadal almost inevitably battled back to even up the match but Dimitrov was not finished. The 22-year-old had three chances to go two sets to one up but shanked a return at 6-5 on Nadal’s serve, blew another in the tiebreak and a third when the Spaniard cut off a volley.
“I got lucky,” said Nadal. “(But) I going to keep fighting, because I felt that I was ready for the fight.” Nadal made the most of the reprieve to clinch the tiebreak 9-7 and race away with the fourth set.
Azarenka sent packing
Radwanska went for broke to snap Azarenka’s 18-match winning streak at Melbourne Park with a thoroughly deserved victory. The Pole, scuttling around the court to retrieve everything thrown at her, raced out to a 5-0 lead and went a set up after 33 minutes. Azarenka charged back to clinch a tight second set with a fierce forehand winner but the shriek with which she celebrated failed to galvanise her and Radwanska whipped through the decider in another half an hour.