MELBOURNE, Australia —Rafael Nadal moved within one match of a record-breaking 21st Grand Slam men’s singles title by defeating Matteo Berrettini of Italy, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, in the semifinals of the Australian Open.
Nadal, the 35-year-old Spanish star, is tied with his longtime rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic for the men’s record.
But neither Federer nor Djokovic played in this year’s tournament. Federer is still recovering from knee surgery and Djokovic, a nine-time Australian Open champion, was deported on the eve of the tournament after his visa was revoked by the Australian government and his appeal was rejected.
Nadal, the only member of the Big Three in Melbourne, has carried the torch surprisingly well after missing most of the second half of the 2021 season with a chronic foot problem that he said threatened his career. When he did return to action in late December for an exhibition in Abu Dhabi, he contracted Covid-19 and developed symptoms at home in Majorca, Spain before making the long trip to Australia.
But he won a warm-up tournament at Melbourne Park before the main event and has now swept through six more matches to reach his sixth and most unexpected Australian Open final.
He has won this title just once, beating Federer for the title in 2009. Since then, he has experienced plenty of tennis heartache in Rod Laver Arena: losing an epic final in 2012 to Djokovic and another five-set marathon to Federer in 2017.
Now, he has a chance to set himself apart.
“For me it’s all about the Australian Open more than anything else,” he said when asked about the prospect of winning No. 21. “I was lucky to win in 2009 but never thought about another chance in 2022.”
On Sunday, Nadal will face the winner of Friday’s second semifinal between No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and No. 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas. Nadal has a winning record against both younger men and now has a 2-0 record against Berrettini, the strapping Italian 25-year-old who has a big serve and heavy forehand and plenty of charisma, but also has a comparatively weak backhand that Nadal exploited repeatedly.