"IT'S SURPRISING": NADAL EARNS HIS SHOT AT HISTORY


Photograph: AP


Rafael Nadal is on the verge of history after defeating Italian Matteo Berrettini in four sets to make the final of the Australian Open.


The Spanish champion is through to his sixth Australian Open final where he will hope to become just the fourth male player to win all four majors at least twice. Nadal worked his way through in clinical fashion, dispatching the seventh seed 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in two hours and 55 minutes on Rod Laver Arena.


“It's amazing, and I'm super happy to be able to compete for the last three weeks at the level that I am doing,” Nadal said in his press conference.


“Not only about tennis, that's for sure. It's surprising for me to be able to play at the level that I am playing, but just compete and play tennis at the high level again, facing the most important players of the world, for me, it's something unbelievable, no?”


The Spaniard is also aiming to become the first men's player in the history of the game to win 21 majors. He currently sits on 20 major titles along with fellow “Big 3” members Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.


“For me, it's something completely unexpected, so I am super happy. Of course, everybody knows me, and I always gonna try my best. Of course, my goal now is to win,” Nadal said.


“As I said, for me, it's a present, just be here and play tennis, no?


“Because at the end of the day, and being very honest, for me is much more important to have the chance to play tennis than win the 21, no? Because that's makes me more happy in terms of general life, no, to be able to do the thing that I like to do more than achieving another Grand Slam.


“At the end of the day, the life, it's about happiness and what makes me happy. It's about just have the chance to do what I like to do.”


Nadal appeared to shake off the injury woes he suffered during his quarterfinal with Denis Shapovalov to storm his way into the final. The Spaniard was on from the very first point and didn’t look back after breaking Berrettini early in the first set.


The champion appeared to target Berrettini’s backhand wing which is noticeably weaker than his forehand. The tactic was a sound one, as Berrettini racked up 20 unforced and 25 forced errors on his backhand by the conclusion of the match.


It was far from Berrettini’s best match of the tournament and unfortunately, it came at the most important stage for the Italian.


The world No. 7 found it difficult to deal with the constant pressure that Nadal applied from the baseline. He particularly struggled with Nadal’s cross-court forehand that would thunder into his weaker backhand side.


The match was won and lost at the baseline as Nadal bullied his opposition into submission. The Spaniard won 68/118 points from the baseline while the Italian was only able to capture 44 points from the back.


The longer the rallies lingered, the more chance Nadal had of winning the point. In rallies of five shots or more, Nadal won 45 points compared to 30 from Berrettini, whereas, in rallies less than four shots, the Italian won 66 points compared to 63 from Nadal.


Despite the lopsided scoreline, Nadal only won 12 more points for the match; 108 to Berrettini’s 96.


Post-match, the 35-year-old showed an uncharacteristic amount of emotion - unable to wipe the smile off of his face.


The emotion stems from a tough end to the 2021 season for the Spaniard. Before playing in the Melbourne Summer Set earlier in January, Nadal’s last competitive match took place in August at the Citi Open in Washington D.C.


Since then Nadal had been dealing with persistent foot issues as well as a bout of COVID-19 before heading down under.


The Spaniard finds himself just one win away from history and 21 major titles. For now, Nadal will have to tune into Friday night’s match between Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev to learn who his opponent will be for the historic 2022 Australian Open final.


“Well, different styles of game, but best players of the world. If I'm not able to play at my top level, will be simply no chance,” Nadal said of his prospective opponents.


“Let's try. I mean, today is a day to enjoy, and tomorrow we're gonna start thinking about what I need to do, knowing which opponent we are gonna have in front.


“But of course change, a little bit, play against one or the other. But one thing not gonna change is that I need to play at my highest level.”


The men’s final is due to be played on Sunday Night at Rod Laver Arena.