2009 Australian Open champion Rafael Nadal has been playing some of the best tennis of his career in three years. The 14-time Grand Slam champion struggled with a loss of form and two injury-plagued campaigns in the last two years. Nevertheless, Nadal has added compatriot Carlos Moya to his coaching team which has improved his tennis slightly.
Whilst, Nadal was having his struggles another player who can sympathize with the Spaniard is 15th seed, Grigor Dimitrov. The Bulgarian had a good year in 2014, reaching his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open losing to Nadal coincidentally. Dimitrov also reached his first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon but since then, his tennis went downhill. Moreover, the 15th seed is working with Andy Murray's former coach Dani Vallverdu, which has been a good appointment for the 25-year-old.
Nadal's route to the semifinals
The former world number one dispatched Germany's Florian Mayer in straight sets in the opening round, and in the second round, he recorded a good straights sets win over 2006 finalist Marcos Baghdatis, which potentially could have been a tricky match for the Spaniard. Furthermore, Nadal overcame an almighty scare against 24th seed Alexander Zverev. The former world number one recovered from a set and two sets to one down to defeat Zverev in five sets. Nadal continued his good run of form in Melbourne by defeating last year's US Open semifinalist and sixth seed Gael Monfils. The match could have gone to five sets had Monfils hung on to the break advantage he had in the fourth set. Nevertheless, Nadal won in four sets to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal since the French Open in 2015. However, Nadal recorded his best victory of the tournament by defeating third seed Milos Raonic in straight sets, avenging his loss to the big-serving Canadian in Brisbane. This match would have boosted the Spaniard's confidence after saving six set points in the second set.
Dimitrov's route to the semifinals
The 15th seed has only dropped two sets en route to this stage of the tournament. Dimitrov's projected fourth round opponent was Novak Djokovic but he was ousted by Denis Istomin. The Bulgarian defeated Australia's Christopher O'Connell in straight sets in the opening round. However, in the second round, he had to recover from a set down to defeat Hyeon Chung, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. In the third round, Dimitrov was up against 18th seed Richard Gasquet, who he trailed 1-5 in their head-to-head meetings. Nevertheless, Dimitrov was too good for the Frenchman defeating him, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. Once again, the Bulgarian had to recover from a set down to defeat Djokovic's conqueror, Denis Istomin, 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2, 6-1. In the quarterfinals, the reigning Brisbane champion defeated 11th seed David Goffin in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.
The two seeded players have met on eight occasions with Nadal leading Dimitrov 7-1. The Spaniard is unbeaten on clay courts leading 3-0 and leads 4-1 on hard courts.
The 2009 Australian Open champion defeated Dimitrov on the hard courts in Rotterdam in 2009 in three sets, followed by other two-three sets wins in their two meetings in 2013 at Masters 1000 events in Monte Carlo and Cincinnati. The duo have met at a Grand Slam tournament before and it was in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open three years ago, Nadal was victorious in four sets, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (7), 6-2.
The Spaniard would defeat Dimitrov in straight sets for the first time in their semifinal encounter in Rome in 2014 and in the quarterfinals of Madrid the following year. For the seventh consecutive meeting, Nadal dispatched Dimitrov in three sets in the round of 16 stage in Basel. Moreover, the Bulgarian finally received some joy against Nadal by defeating him in straight sets in the quarterfinals in Basel at the tail-end of last season.
Who reaches the final?
Both players enter Friday's semifinal encounter to be played in the Rod Laver Arena at not before 7:30 pm local time, full of confidence. The 15th seeded defeated three back-to-back top ten players in Dominic Thiem, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori en route to winning the title in Brisbane, which will give him some hope against Nadal.
Meanwhile, Nadal will be competing in his first Grand Slam semifinal in almost three years, and the ninth seed will be looking to reach his fourth final Down Under. The Spaniard's serve has improved under Moya, which will be a good aspect of his game against Dimitrov. Moreover, the Bulgarian likes to implement a slice in his game, which will not be ideal against Nadal.
Both semifinalists are fine returners, and should the 14-time Grand Slam champion make this a physical match, he will come out on top. The former top ten player knows that this is a golden opportunity to reach his first Slam final, and try to win his first Slam title. Players like Djokovic and Murray, who Dimitrov has struggled with in the past have fallen by the wayside.
The winner of this semifinal encounter will play 17th seed and former world number one Roger Federer. The Swiss number two will be competing in his 28th Grand Slam singles final, and sixth in Melbourne with his last title coming in 2010. Should Nadal defeat Dimitrov, it will be the first time since Wimbledon in 2008, that we've had a Serena-Venus final in the women's singles, and a final between Federer and Nadal which the fans want to see on the same weekend.
This should be an interesting encounter between the duo, and Federer will be pleased to have two days off. Federer has played some good tennis from his six-month injury lay-off and will be a tough opponent for Nadal or Dimitrov.
Prediction: Nadal in four sets