There have been times in recent years when you wondered whether Rafael Nadal’s repeated injuries would prevent him from ever winning a title again, but at 32 years of age the world No 2 has looked as fit and as strong as ever at this Australian Open.
A crushing 6-2, 6-4, 6-0 victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas here on Thursday saw Nadal reach the final of the year’s opening Grand Slam tournament for the fifth time, but this is the first occasion when he has done so without dropping a set.
Tsitsipas, who had knocked out Roger Federer and has lit up this tournament with his youthful energy and exuberance, was expected to provide Nadal with his toughest test of the tournament so far, but the 20-year-old Greek was swept aside in just an hour and 46 minutes.
Nadal was able to complete only seven tournaments in 2018 as his physical problems multiplied. When he had ankle surgery in November, having cut short his season after the US Open, and then pulled out of the Brisbane International in the first week of this season with a thigh problem, his chances here did not look good.
However, he has blazed a trail through the field, winning each of his six matches in an average of less than two hours, though he has yet to face an opponent ranked in the world’s top 10.
Nadal will now take on the winner of Friday’s second semi-final between Novak Djokovic and Lucas Pouille. Should he win his 18thGrand Slam trophy on Sunday, the Spaniard will be just two short of Federer’s all-time men’s record.
“It’s been a great tournament,” Nadal said after beating Tsitsipas. “I've played very well every day. After a lot of months without playing it’s this crowd which has given me unbelievable energy.
“To start the season like this when a few weeks ago, when I was in Brisbane, having to take a very tough decision not to play there, iIn that moment it was difficult for me to imagine where I am today. Since the tournament started I've felt really, really well."
Tsitsipas had the support of thousands of Greek fans both inside Rod Laver Arena and all around Melbourne Park, but Nadal never let him build up any momentum.While the world No 15 tried to play his usual attacking game, Nadal kept driving him back with his ruthlessly aggressive approach.
Tsitsipas started confidently enough, playing serve-and-volley on the first point and winning the opening game with another charge into the net. At 1-1, however, Nadal broke for the first time. A forehand winner down the line took him to break point, which he converted with a bold backhand approach.
In the seventh game Nadal broke again, this time with a backhand winner, and with just 31 minutes on the clock he served out for the first set.
The second set was closer, but at 4-4 Nadal broke serve for the third time when Tsitsipas netted what should have been a routine forehand. Nadal won his following service game to love to take a firm grip on the match.
Tsitsipas offered little resistance in the third set. The Greek won only eight points in it, though he offered minor resistance in the final game. A missed volley gave Tsitsipas his only break point of the match, but Nadal won the next three points to secure an overwhelming victory.
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