It can never be considered a complete surprise to see Rafael Nadal in the latter stages of a Grand Slam, but this bottom-half semifinal at the Australian Open could not have been anticipated by many when the fortnight began. It will be Nadal vs. Grigor Dimitrov on Friday.
Rafael Nadal and Grigor Dimitrov will be squaring off for the ninth in their careers when they collide in the Australian Open semifinals on Friday night.
Nadal is dominating the head-to-head series 7-1, including 4-1 on hard courts and 1-0 in Melbourne. They faced each other in the quarterfinals of this event three years ago, when the Spaniard prevailed 3-6, 7-6(3), 7-6(7), 6-2. Dimitrov finally got on the scoreboard in this matchup with a 6-2, 6-4 rout last fall in Beijing, but that came during a stretch in which Nadal somewhat inexplicably played two fall-swing tournaments in between the U.S. Open and a premature end to his season because of a wrist problem.
It’s safe to say the 14-time major champion has recovered nicely from the injury that forced him out of the French Open after two rounds and prevented him from playing Wimbledon. Nadal won the six-man Abu Dhabi event a few weeks ago, lost a three-setter to Milos Raonic in the Brisbane quarters, and then avenged that defeat by beating Raonic 6-4, 7-6(7), 6-4 on Wednesday. The world No. 9 preceded that result with wins over Florian Mayer, Marcos Baghdatis, Alexander Zverev (five sets), and Gael Monfils.
Dimitrov is through to his second career slam semifinal (Wimbledon in 2014) thanks to defeats of Matthew O’Connell, Hyeon Chung, Richard Gasquet, Denis Istomin, and David Goffin. The 15th-ranked Bulgarian is an amazing 10-0 this year, having warmed up for the Aussie Open by capturing the Brisbane title.
“He’s a player that has been on the tour for a lot of years already,” Nadal said of Dimitrov. “He’s a player that has an unbelievable talent; unbelievable potential. He started the season playing unbelievable. (It) is going to be a very tough match for me. I hope for him, too. I’m going to try to play my best because I know he’s playing with high confidence.”
What’s more unbelievable is that six of the eight semifinalists–three on the men’s side and three women–are into their 30s. That includes Nadal and Roger Federer. If a dream Nadal-Federer final is derailed, it likely won’t be Dimitrov holding responsibility. He does not have the same firepower like that of Raonic or Zverev with which to seriously trouble the former world No. 1. Nadal actually finished with more winners than Raonic in the quarterfinals, an obvious indication that he is playing the correct way: offensively.
More of the same from Nadal would be more than enough to get past Dimitrov.
Pick: Nadal in 4