31 Jan 2009

Longest match in Aussie open history to find men's finalist

6:18 am on 31 January 2009

World No.1 Rafael Nadal entered the record books and his first Australian Open men's singles final after emerging triumphant from the longest match in the tournament's history.

Nadal advanced to Sunday night's final against Roger Federer with a five hour, 14 minute semi-final win over 14th seed Fernando Verdasco.

It took a five-set epic to separate the two Spaniards, who arm-wrestled from Friday evening into early Saturday morning on Rod Laver Arena before Nadal triumphed 6-7 (7-4) 6-4 7-6 (7-2) 6-7 (7-1) 6-4.

The match beat the previous longest Open encounter between Boris Becker and Italian Omar Camporese in 1991, a third round match which lasted five hours and 11 minutes.

Cruelly, this semi-final ended with a Verdasco double fault - a ill-fitting end to a classic.

Both players matched each other in intensity and shot-making throughout - the game turning on a handful of points.

Each dominated one tie-break and while errors, double faults and service breaks were few, winners were brilliant and plentiful.

Not even the 95 winners Verdasco produced in his first grand slam semi-final - nearly double that of Nadal during the match - could nudge him past his countryman, whose best tennis came crucially on the big points.

Nadal's victory sets up a dream final against Federer.

The two great rivals have fought out six of the past 11 grand slam finals, with Nadal holding a 4-2 edge over Federer in major deciders.

Nadal took Federer's long-held world No.1 ranking and Wimbledon crown last year, and the Spaniard will chase his first hardcourt grand slam title as Federer seeks a record-equalling 14th grand slam singles trophy.

On Saturday night, Serena Williams aims for her fourth Australian Open singles crown when she plays Russian Dinara Safina in the final.

Williams can add the singles to the doubles title she won on Friday with sister Venus.