Nadal serves up marathon floor show

Spaniard calls on last ounce of energy to beat battling Verdasco and set up tomorrow's final against Federer. Paul Newman reports from Melbourne Park

The longest match ever at the Australian Open ended, appropriately enough, with both men on the floor of Rod Laver Arena here last night. As Rafael Nadal fell on his back in celebration, Fernando Verdasco slumped to his knees in despair after serving a double fault while attempting to save his third match point after five hours and 14 minutes. A contest to bear comparison with some of the finest in history ended at 1.10am with Nadal winning 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4.

An extraordinary display of stroke-making and athleticism provided wonderful entertainment for the crowd, but the happiest spectator must have been Roger Federer, who had won his semi-final in straight sets 24 hours earlier. Nadal is the strong man of tennis, but can he recover in time to beat the game's greatest fast-court player, who will be aiming to equal Pete Sampras's record of 14 Grand Slam titles?

Verdasco has been the revelation of the tournament and his performances against Nadal and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have put Andy Murray's defeat to the world No 15 in a new light. The Scot had been ill before their fourth-round encounter but still took it to five sets.

Until he played a key role in Spain's Davis Cup triumph last month 25-year-old Verdasco was regarded as an inconsistent hit-and-hope player. However, the victory over Argentina did wonders for his confidence and a winter camp working with Gil Reyes, Andre Agassi's former trainer, has transformed his fitness.

Nadal must have felt he was looking into a mirror as his fellow Spanish left-hander chased down balls and smashed 95 winners. They had won 192 points each until Verdasco served his second double fault of the final game, having made only two in the previous five hours. Nevertheless the most telling statistic was the unforced error count: Verdasco 76, Nadal 25.

A desperately tight first set had turned on a stroke of luck. Nadal was serving at 4-5 in the tie-break when a Verdasco shot, which was going wide, struck the top of the net, toppled over and landed just inside the court. Verdasco finished off the set with a smash.

The first break of serve came in the last game of the second set. Nadal set it up with a superb running forehand down the line and completed it when Verdasco hit a forehand long. The third set featured four breaks but once again it went to a tie-break, which Nadal dominated to win 7-2.

Normal service was resumed in the fourth set as neither player had so much as a break point. Verdasco played a sensational tie-break, winning it 7-1 with a series of huge forehands, but in the deciding set he repeatedly had to dig himself out of trouble on his serve. Nadal is the ultimate competitor but said that he felt so much emotion that there were tears in his eyes when he went 40-0 up in the final game.

This tournament began with talk of Murray replacing Novak Djokovic as the men's champion, but it will now end with a shoot-out between two more familiar gun-slingers. At 22 and 27 Nadal and Federer are hardly preparing for life on the veterans' tour, but they have filled the top two ranking places for three and a half years and their rivalry has lit up the game.

Nadal, four times a Grand Slam champion on clay and once on grass, will be chasing his first major title on hard courts but will derive confidence from his 12 wins in 18 meetings with Federer, including all four last year. Their most recent meeting was their epic Wimbledon final, which Nadal won in four hours and 48 minutes. The Spaniard will be hoping tomorrow's contest is shorter.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
News
people
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star