Australian Open: Rafael Nadal outlasts Grigor Dimitrov in five-set thriller to complete blockbuster finals lineup

2009 champion Rafael Nadal overcame Grigor Dimitrov in a thrilling five-set marathon in the semifinals of the Australian Open to reach his first grand slam final since Roland Garros 2014. The Spaniard will face off against long-time rival Roger Federer in the matchup that many tennis fans around have been dreaming of, marking the first time that the pair have met in a grand slam final since Roland Garros 2011. 

Nadal was in control in the first set but the match completely turned from there as Dimitrov raised his game significantly. Very little separated the pair for the rest of the match. Both had missed chances in each set but in the end, it was the critical game at 4-4 in the fifth set where Nadal saved two break points that would have left Dimitrov serving for the biggest win of his life, that made the difference. Although playing the best tennis of his career, the Bulgarian didn't have enough in the end and Nadal fought hard to close it out, getting it done on his third match point after almost five hours on court to secure his place in his twenty-first grand slam final. 

Nadal takes control 

Nadal served to begin the match, two forehand errors giving Dimitrov the advantage on return. The Spaniard dictated the next point with big forehands giving him his first point on serve but Dimitrov followed with a backhand down the line winner to bring up two break points. Nadal took control and found his range to save both and hold on in the crucial seven-minute opening game. The Bulgarian sailed through a love hold to put the pressure straight back on Nadal. The Spaniard came through a much better hold this time, sealing the game with a scorching forehand inside out winner to lead 2-1. 

A huge backhand crosscourt winner from Nadal on return gave him the advantage at 15-30. An error from the Bulgarian seen Nadal earn two break points. A big serve saved the first but Dimitrov couldn't control a huge forehand down the line from Nadal as he approached the net and the 2009 champion took the first break. A love hold followed for the Spaniard as he extended his lead to 4-1.  

Nadal fires a forehand (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Nadal fires a forehand (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Three stunning forehand winners from the Bulgarian quickly took him to 40-0 on serve. A backhand slice into the net gave Nadal a look in but Dimitrov ripped a backhand crosscourt to seal the good hold on the next point. Deep hitting and good serving from the Spaniard seen him through his second consecutive hold to love to force Dimitrov to serve to stay in the set.  

Dimitrov battled through another solid hold, his big hitting giving him the first point on return as Nadal was serving for the set. A huge forehand set up Nadal with an easy putaway volley at the net to level them. Two great serves and another impressive volley winner gave the Spaniard the first set 6-3 in thirty-five minutes. 

Dimitrov rises to the occasion 

A couple of scorching forehand winners seen Dimitrov through an impressive opening service game to begin the second set. Signature style forehands from Nadal eventually broke through some incredible defense from Dimitrov as he came through a good hold of his own to level the pair, taking the game point with a body serve. The Bulgarian took control early in his points on serve, stepping into the court and flattening out brutal forehands to push Nadal back and race to 40-0. Two errors from Dimitrov gave the Spaniard a chance in the game but another big serve and forehand winner combination took the Bulgarian out of the game with a 2-1 lead. 

Dimitrov kept his impressive play going into the return, breaking to love as he dictated from the baseline. Nadal then battled for a 15-30 lead on return in search of the break back but the Bulgarian stayed solid and recovered to extend his lead to 4-1. Nadal got back on track with a good hold, bringing out big serves to see him through the game easily. The pressure was on Dimitrov in the next game as he tried to keep up his outstanding level and Nadal took advantage to earn a break point, before being gifted the break with a double fault from the Bulgarian to go back on serve at 4-3. 

Dimitrov reaches for the ball (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Dimitrov reaches for the ball (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

This time the nerves came from the Spaniard as again Dimitrov managed to earn a break at the crucial time that would allow him to serve for the set, but the breaks continued and Nadal battled to level them for a second time before serving to stay in the set. The Bulgarian battled to earn a set point as Nadal's first serve abandoned him at the worst possible moment but the Spaniard came up with an incredible forehand down the line winner to save it. Another two set points were lost with errors and the fourth was erased with an ace as Nadal then struck another forehand winner to earn a game point and come through the massive hold for 5-5.  

Another tense game followed but Dimitrov survived, big serving bringing him through to force Nadal to serve to stay in the set for the second time. The Bulgarian pounced as a loose game with a few errors from Nadal gave Dimitrov another two set points, taking the first of the game with another costly error from the Spaniard. 

Former champion back in front 

Each man came through a hold to love each to begin the third set. A string of errors and a double fault from Dimitrov left Nadal with two break points in the following game. Two huge serves saved them and brought the pair to deuce. A bit of luck followed for Dimitrov as a forehand hit the top of the net and just crawled over, bringing him through the hold to lead 2-1.  

Nadal edged another tight game on serve before he was gifted a break after Dimitrov reeled off four unforced errors. The lead didn't last long as the Bulgarian quickly refocused to raise his level again and break straight back. Great serving and a couple of aces from Dimitrov took him through a much needed quick hold of serve to go back into the lead at 4-3.  

Nadal slices a backhand (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Nadal slices a backhand (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

An ace from Nadal sealed a love hold, fending off the pressure late in the crucial third set. Dimitrov continued his excellent serving and powerful groundstrokes to dictate his way through another service game and force the Spaniard to serve to stay in the set. The pair continued their excellent serving throughout the late stages of the set, with neither man earning a look at a break point as they headed into a tiebreak. 

The pair exchanged mini-breaks to begin the tiebreak. Nadal then took a 3-1 lead with an outstanding backhand crosscourt pushing Dimitrov back. The Bulgarian regained the mini-break with a sliced backhand error from Nadal landing in the net but the Spaniard edged ahead to 5-3 with some huge forehands drawing the error from Dimitrov. An ace from the world number fifteen kept him in touch and a bad forehand error from Nadal into the net brought them back on serve again at 5-5. Incredible defending from the former champion brought him through his next service point to bring up a set point. The Spaniard hammered huge backhands to Dimitrov, eventually forcing the error to give Nadal the third set 7-6(5).  

Forcing a fifth 

Nadal got off to a great start in the fourth set, firing a scorching forehand winner to hold in the opening game. The Spaniard then pushed to 30-30 on return but Dimitrov brought out his best serving when he needed it most to hold on and level the pair early. There was no chance on the return yet for the Bulgarian as Nadal came through a simple hold to love to go back ahead at 2-1. 

The Spaniard stepped up on return again, firing his forehand and pushing Dimitrov back to force his way to deuce but again the Bulgarian stayed focused in the important moments and battled through another tight game. He was rewarded with chances on return at 15-30 in the next game but bullying groundstrokes from Nadal brought him through the next three points to edge back ahead with a 3-2 lead. Another hold for each man came with opportunities on return for both at 30-30 but still no break points so far in the set. 

Dimitrov celebrates taking the fourth set (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Dimitrov celebrates taking the fourth set (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

A couple of backhand errors from Nadal helped Dimitrov through his first easy hold of the set. Great defending from the Bulgarian wasn't enough as Nadal ended a brutal rally with a perfect drop shot to go ahead on serve, coming through another quick hold to go a game away from the final. Dimitrov showed no signs of pressure as he was serving to stay in the match, flying through the hold with two aces in a love game to level the pair at 5-5. 

Punishing backhands from the Bulgarian took him into the lead on return in the following game but a couple of errors left Nadal in front at 30-15. Nadal's outstanding defense took him through the crucial 30-30 point and great reactions at the net secured the hold to force Dimitrov to serve to stay in the match again. The Bulgarian fired his way through another quick hold to force the pair into a tiebreak.  

Both men easily held on to their first service point in the breaker. Dimitrov fired a backhand crosscourt winner to edge ahead 2-1 but Nadal quickly followed with an excellent change of direction in a forehand down the line winner to level them. A forced error gave the first mini-break to Dimitrov and the Bulgarian then held on to his next two points with some excellent serving to race to a 5-2 lead. Nadal stole one of the breaks back with a forehand passing shot but a huge serve on his second set point leveled the match, as Dimitrov took the breaker 7-6(4) 

Dream finals lineup complete 

Nadal raised his game at the beginning of the third to earn two break points but Dimitrov rallied back from the brink, saving three break points and securing the hold on his fourth game point with a forehand winner to get the first game of the deciding set on the board. Nadal then had to battle in the next game to save a break point, eventually leveling the pair at 1-1 with twenty-one grueling minutes already played in the deciding set. Both players then came through a much easier time on serve, splitting another two games. Another break point came and went for Nadal in the next game with a loose forehand error and Dimitrov once again came out on top of another mini-battle on serve to cling to his lead at 3-2.  

The first love hold of the set came for Nadal before he again went on the attack on return. A bruising backhand down the line took the pair to deuce on Dimitrov's serve but a huge serve and forehand winner follow-up brought up a second game point for the Bulgarian, taking it with another huge forehand winner. Nadal began his next service game with two errors handing Dimitrov a lead on return, bullying groundstrokes then bringing up two break points that would allow him to serve for the set. The Spaniard brought out his best when he needed it, taking the ball early and dictating from the back of the court to come through the tense game and level the set at 4-4.  

Nadal celebrates victory (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Nadal celebrates victory (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

The pressure was on Dimitrov as he recovered from the disappointment of the missed break points as Nadal pounced on return, striking a forehand winner to take the lead. A double fault left the Bulgarian in danger at 0-30 but two errors from Nadal leveled them. A costly error from Dimitrov brought up a break point for the Spaniard, and this time he took advantage, firing a backhand winner to take the break that took him a game away from the final. Dimitrov gave it everything to try and get the break back. He managed to save two match points but an error on the third sent Nadal into his first grand slam final since 2014.