Federer, Nadal set for clash in semifinals

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MELBOURNE, Australia — The intensity was vintage Rafael Nadal.

On the stroke of midnight, he thrust his arms up and punched the air, sealing the victory that sets up the most anticipated semifinal at the Australian Open in quite some time.

Roger Federer did his part to put this in place. In the previous match on Rod Laver Arena, he beat 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 in a quarterfinal marking his 1,000th tour-level match.

A Federer-Nadal semifinal had been looming since the draw for the season’s first major — the first time the pair have been in the same half at a Grand Slam tournament since 2005.

Playing with a new racket and a heavily taped right knee, Nadal was at his demonstrative best, rallying after losing the first set to beat Tomas Berdych 6-7 (5), 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-3.

Yelling “Vamos,” disputing line calls, pumping his arms after winning big points and bounding around like a hyperactive kid, Nadal ripped winner after winner against Berdych in a 4-hour, 16-minute display of pure intimidation.

He said he was nervous in the first set — he’d lost in the quarterfinals two straight years — but by the third and fourth sets things had indeed changed.

“The character on court, the way to win the points … the level is very positive, much, much better than the end of the season,” he said. “Semifinals is fantastic result for me.”

Federer finished his match with one of his classic, one-handed backhands against Del Potro, one of only two men who have beaten him in a major final. The other is Nadal, who has done it six times.

That lopsided record aside, there’s a touch of extra tension this time in this usually cordial rivalry. Nadal had told Spanish reporters during a discussion about player discontent that Federer liked to protect his reputation as a gentleman by saying nothing negative in public and letting others “burn.”

Both have since played down the comments. On Tuesday, Federer said it didn’t damage their relationship.

“No. No. Honestly, no,” he said. “It was here for one day and then gone again. I’m happy about that because it didn’t deserve more attention than it did. So for me, it’s another great match with Rafa. … Obviously I’d like to play Rafa because of our great epic match earlier in the finals here a few years ago.”

Thursday’s match will be the first time they have met at Melbourne Park since Nadal won the 2009 title in five seesawing sets. Nadal collected the trophy from the great Rod Laver after consoling Federer as he sobbed in the background.

“We are talking about a player who has won 16 Grand Slams, and I’ve won 10,” Nadal said. “We have played a lot of matches together, many in very important moments for our careers. So the matches against him are always special, even if we are (ranked) 20 against 25.”

One of the women’s semifinals is already set up, with defending champion Kim Clijsters showing too much experience in a 6-3, 7-6 (4) win over Caroline Wozniacki, who remains without a major title and will now lose her No. 1 ranking.

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