- Associated Press - Thursday, January 26, 2012

MELBOURNE, Australia — Only the trophy and the tears were missing from this latest Grand Slam installment of Rafa vs. Roger.

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were on opposite sides of the net Thursday, meeting in the semifinals of the Australian Open.

And Nadal was the winner again — for the eighth time in their 10 Grand Slam matchups.

The Spaniard won 6-7 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (5), 6-4, covering the baseline with incredible speed and hitting forehand winners from almost impossible angles.

He applauded as Federer started to leave the stadium, then ran back onto the court, dropping onto his haunches and pumping his arms in triumph. All that, three days before the final.

Defending champion and No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic will take on Andy Murray on Friday for a spot against Nadal in Sunday’s final.

Maria Sharapova is chasing her fourth major title, and the No. 1 ranking, when she meets third-seeded Victoria Azarenka in the women’s final on Saturday.

Sharapova beat No. 2 Petra Kvitova 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 to avenge her loss to the 21-year-old Czech in the Wimbledon final last year. Azarenka beat defending champion Kim Clijsters 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.

The latest Grand Slam meeting between Nadal and Federer — who’ve won 26 majors between them — was a semifinal worthy of a final.

Nadal didn’t excuse his celebration, but explained it as letting off steam.

“It’s a fantastic victory for me. Very, very happy playing against the greatest of the history in semifinals, big match on Rod Laver (court),” he said. “It’s one of the victories that’s going to stay in my mind forever. It’s a fantastic way to start the season. Very happy for everything.”

Apart from the 11 consecutive points Federer lost after a 10-minute delay near the end of the second set — while the Australia Day fireworks display was in progress — the match was tightly contested.

Nadal has labored with injuries since losing the U.S. Open final, and he’d talked about having time off next month to let his sore shoulder heal. On the eve of the tournament, he hurt his knee while he sat in a chair at his hotel — and thought for a while that he wouldn’t be able to play at the Australian Open. He has played with his right knee heavily strapped, but has still won six straight matches.

The 10th Grand Slam meeting between Nadal and Federer equaled the record for individual major matchups since the Open era began in 1968. Ivan Lendl beat John McEnroe in seven of their 10 meetings. Nadal now leads Federer 8-2.

Federer said it feels like Nadal plays his best tennis against him.

Story Continues →