Rafael Nadal set-up a throwback Australian Open final against Roger Federer after beating Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in a five-set thriller.
Nadal, who hadn’t reached a major final since the French Open in 2014, was pushed to the brink by the 15th seed, who valiantly fought back from two sets to one down and had break points in the decider.
Both battled relentlessly for a gruelling 4 hours and 54 minutes before Nadal eventually sealed a marathon 6-3 5-7 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 victory.
The Spaniard will now face Federer for the first time in a Grand Slam final since the 2011 French Open final , which Nadal claimed in four sets.
If Nadal prevails he will become the first man in the open era to win all four of the majors on two or more occasions.
"It's a dream to be back in the final"
"I never dreamed to be back in the final of the Australian Open," said Nadal in his on-court interview after the match.
“Grigor was playing unbelievable. it was a great match. I am very happy to be part of it, the crowd was amazing,” he added.
On playing Federer, the Spaniard said: "I hope to recover well and for me it is a privilege. It is a special thing for both of us to be able to compete against each other in a major final.”
First two sets are split
Nadal had won seven of his eight matches against Dimitrov before this semi-final, however the Bulgarian had won their previous meeting in Beijing at the end of last year.
After a stuttering 2016, Dimitrov has started the new year in impressive form, winning the ATP title in Brisbane before his run to last four in Melbourne.
Yet it was Nadal who made the brighter start, breaking his opponent in the fourth game of the match before closing out the first set without dropping his serve.
There has been a noticeable difference in the Spaniard’s delivery and in the opening set Nadal won 90 per cent of the points when his first serve found its mark.
However, that dropped significantly - to 52 per cent - in the second set, as Dimitrov broke Nadal three times on his way to levelling the match.
Twice Nadal pegged him back but eventually the Bulgarian held his nerve, converting his fifth set point after the Spaniard sent a backhand beyond the baseline.
In a topsy-turvy set, Dimitrov begun to dominate with his forehand, capitalising on Nadal’s returns which started to drop alarmingly short.
The Bulgarian couldn’t build on an early break at the start of the third, as Nadal came roaring back to win it on a tie break.
Dimitrov fights until the end
At two sets to one, even the bookmakers saw Nadal as the favourite to lift the title on Sunday. Dimitrov, to his credit, had other ideas.
At times the Bulgarian’s defence and athleticism was quite outstanding. With all his talent and eye-catching shots, it’s hard to believe that Dimitrov hasn’t kicked on after reached his first Grand Slam semi-finals at Wimbledon in 2014.
Based on this tournament the Bulgarian’s career is back on track and, after edging a tight fourth set breaker, he had Nadal on the ropes in the decider.
The Spaniard brilliantly saved two break points when serving at 3-4 and it appeared to affect Dimitrov, who surrendered his serve in the following game.
Still the Bulgarian would not lie down, saving two match points before Nadal finally triumphed.