Rafael Nadal has set up a dream Australian Open final with Roger Federer after battling past Grigor Dimitrov.
The pair will do battle for the ninth time in the final of a major, looking to add a 32nd Grand Slam between them.
Nadal was made to work hard in his semi-final against 15th seed Dimitrov, but eventually ended the Bulgarian’s 10-match winning streak.
A 6-3 5-7 7-6 (7-5) 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 win in almost five hours saw the world No. 9 reach his 21st Slam final, which ties him with Novak Djokovic in the second-most appearances in major finals.
At the top of the list sits Nadal’s final opponent in Melbourne, with Federer on an incredible 28.
Most Grand Slam finals
28 – Federer
21 – Djokovic
21 – Nadal
Dimitrov, in his second Grand Slam semi-final after losing to Djokovic at the same stage at Wimbledon in 2014, certainly played his part but Nadal ultimately outlasted him to reach his first Slam final since Roland Garros in 2014.
Nadal was put under early pressure, saving two break points in his opening service game to eventually hold.
After a good start, the Bulgarian was then stung in his second service game, with Nadal moving 3-1 up with a break.
It proved to be enough for the Spaniard to take the opener and he looked a level above his opponent.
However, Dimitrov came roaring back in set two, breaking Nadal for a 3-1 lead.
Nadal hit back, with the Bulgarian double faulting to allow the 14-time Grand Slam champion a way back into the set.
A strange service game from Nadal then followed, losing his serve from 40-15 up, and double faulting on break point, to allow Dimitrov a chance to serve for the second set.
The 25-year-old, however, did not take it, with Nadal striking back again – a third consecutive break in the match.
A nine-minute service game followed for Nadal, with Dimitrov having four set points but the former world No. 1 came through.
It would have been easy for the Bulgarian to collapse after coming so close but he set up two more set point chances and took it at the fifth time of asking.
Nadal seemed to be back on track in the third with a break for 3-2 but Dimitrov quickly levelled things back up.
With Nadal set to serve to stay in the third set, there was a break in play as a spectator required medical attention in the crowd.
Nadal had no problems seeing it through and forced a third-set tiebreak, which was taken 7-5.
Another tiebreak followed in the fourth set, with Dimitrov taking the match into a decider.
In a huge game at 3-4, Dimitrov had two break points at 15-40 but Nadal showed exactly why he’s a great champion to play some of his best points of the match and level it to 4-4.
In the following game, Nadal got the vital break and served it out.