The dream final was finally secured after nearly five hours of high octane play with Rafael Nadal defeating Grigor Dimitrov 6-3 5-7 7-6(5) 6-7(4) 6-4 to advance into the championship round where Roger Federer awaits.
It's special to play with Roger again in a final of a Grand Slam. I cannot lie, it's great,
In what was a classic match featuring numerous rallies of extraordinary length and requiring more than usual stamina from the adversaries, the ninth-seeded Spaniard fought off two break points in the eighth game of the deciding fifth set.
He followed that up by breaking his Bulgarian opponent with a powerful backhand winner down the line to break him and then served out for the match claiming his hard-fought victory after 4 hours, 56 minutes on a Dimitrov error.
It was a fighting performance which brought back memories of his heydays, especially saving two break points as he served for the match, falling to his knees in relief at finally claiming the victory.
"It’s special to play with Roger again in a final of a Grand Slam. I cannot lie, it’s great," said Nadal, after setting up his ninth major final against his old rival.
"It’s exciting for me and for both of us that we are still there and we still fighting for important events. So that’s important for us, I think.
He added that after a dayÈs rest (Federer went through yesterday so had an extra day) he hoped to be able to compete again. "I need to go back to the hotel, to rest well, and to recover from now."
Nadal, who has only won the Australian Open once when he beat Federer for the title in 20019, will be playing his fourth final in Melbourne, in what will be his 21st Grand Slam title match.
Both players are unexpected finalists bearing in mind that both had taken lengthy time-outs from the circuit last year, Federer for six months and Nadal two.
But with the early exits of the top two seeds, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, their names moved up as possible contenders. The fact that they have come through to emulate the successful runs of the Williams sisters in the LadiesÈ event, is quite extraordinary as for the first time both finals feature players 30 or over!
There is now a lot at stake as Nadal hopes to extend his grand slam record to 15 wins while Federer is aiming to improve on his record of 17.
Nadal could also become the first player in the Open era (and only the third man in history) to win the title at all Grand Slams twice.
The odds should favour Federer who, despite his five-set win over Stan Wawrinka yesterday, will arrive on Sunday the fresher of the two. Both players though, are capable of repeating their efforts with so much at stake.
"I always had the confidence that if I am able to win some matches, then anything can happen," Nadal said in his post-match interview.
"But last year was tough. When you feel that you are playing very well and you have to go from Roland Garros without going on court, I remember myself crying in the car coming back to hotel. That was a tough moment."
Remembering meeting Federer in Mallorca when the Swiss star was due to play an exhibition match with him to mark the opening of the Nadal Tennis Academy but had to step down because of their injuries, the Spaniard revealed: "No, in that moment, for sure we never thought that we had the chance to be, again, in a final, and especially in the first of the year. It has happened.
"Both of us I think worked very hard to be where we are. It’s great. It’s great that, again, we are in a moment like this and we going to have a chance again to enjoy a moment like this.
"I feel that this rivalry is talked about outside the tennis world, and that is good for our sport," Nadal said looking ahead to the final where he leads his rival 6-2 in major title bouts. However he dismisses that record, stating: "(That) was a long time ago. I really don’t think about what happened in the past. I think the player who play better is going to be the winner. It’s special. We have not been there in that situation for a while, so that makes the match different.
Despite the defeat, Dimitrov will have enhanced his reputation by showing that he now has the stamina to keep up with the best of them, as well as the shots. He did himself proud in what was only his second semi-final at grand slam level.
"It’s never easy to lose a match like that," the 25 year-old said. "I’m happy, though, with a lot of things. I’m going to stay positive and keep my head up high.
"I just don’t want to put my head down for a second right now, especially when I’m feeling good, I’m competing great," he added. "I’m appreciating my run so far. It’s been a great start of the year. It doesn’t happen often that you come off from 10 matches in a row."
Now all eyes will turn to SundayÈs final when two of the greatest players to grace the courts will face each other once more in a match many would never have thought possible bearing in mind their respective ages and the challenges from the new generation.