Melbourne, Jan 31: Rafael Nadal survived a record five-set battle with fellow Spanish left-hander Fernando Verdasco to set up a classic Australian Open final with archrival Roger Federer on Friday.
Nadal lost his first sets of the tournament but showed incredible resilience to win the epic 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 over five hours and 14 minutes, the longest match in the tournament's history.
"Right now I feel more happy than tired," Nadal told the crowd. "For sure it's going to be a tough final. But it was amazing for me to play that match here. It was one of the best matches of my career."
On Sunday Nadal will play his seventh Major final against Federer, who can equal the Grand Slam titles record. Nadal beat Federer in both the French Open and Wimbledon finals last year and holds a 4-2 edge in the matches.
The Open's previous longest match was Boris Becker's 1991 win over Omar Camporese, which lasted five hours and 11 minutes.
Friday's match also surpassed Nadal's epic Wimbledon final with Federer last year, (four hours and 48 minutes), and equalled his longest ever match (five hours 14 minutes against Guillermo Coria in the 2005 Rome final).
In a semi-final of remarkable quality, Verdasco looked to have thrown the first set away when he smashed a routine overhead out on his only break point at 2-2. But he saved break points at 5-5 and edged the tie-break, helped by a huge stroke of luck when a ball which was heading out caught the net and bounced in.
Nadal was rattled but he forced break points at 4-3 in the second and broke for the set when Verdasco went long. With fatigue setting in, both were broken twice in the third before Verdasco sprayed errors to hand over the tie-break.
Nadal was in the ascendancy and Verdasco was struggling as he twice took treatment to his left lower leg, but he quickly recovered and dominated a rousing tie-break 7-1 in the fourth. It was a fight to the finish and Verdasco saved five break points in the decider before crumbling at 4-5 as he netted on the third match point.
"It's going to be a little bit tough on Sunday. Roger had today off and only three sets in his semi-final so now, for sure, he's the favourite," added Nadal. "But I'll try my best."
Both Nadal and Verdasco are strapping left-handers from Spain, but their careers have been vastly different. While Nadal is seeking his sixth Grand Slam title, Verdasco had never been past the fourth round in a Major before this tournament.
Nadal added eight titles last year to take his career total to 31, while Verdasco's only successes have been in Valencia in 2004 and Umag last year. Verdasco also has a playboy reputation, reportedly dating tennis stars Ana Ivanovic and Gisela Dulko and being linked with a string of Spanish beauties.
But he became a sensation in Spain by subduing fierce partisan crowds and Argentina's Jose Acasuso over five sets to seal the Davis Cup title, with Nadal out injured.