Djokovic vs.Nadal stranglehold broken, but Rafa & bloody hand survive another day

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MELBOURNE – Given that they essentially dominated the tour in 2013, the odds of Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic meeting in another Grand Slam final were quite high entering the 2014 Australian Open. But tennis times always change, even if they do so at glacial pace.

Djokovic has not lost a match since the 2013 US Open final to Nadal entering the event, and had taken care of his matches handily. But finally, a player with flair and courage ended his win streak when Stan Wawrinka took him out 2‑6, 6‑4, 6‑2, 3‑6, 9‑7 in a five-set classic. The Swiss was overdue for a win over the Serbian, especially after he had lost two five-setters to him at the 2013 Aussie Open and US Open. But he still had to earn it, or at least keep pushing Djokovic until he made a couple of critical and unthinkable errors, which he did in the last two points of the match.

“I had to find solution,” said Wawrinka who at times thought that he might never reach the finish line. “I had to fight within myself to fight against him and try to keep my line during the match.”

The 22-year-old Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov could have done much the same against Nadal, going deep inside himself in order to convince himself that he could actually win the match but he does not have the 28-year-old Wawrinka’s experience. So, even when he was out playing the Spaniard and Nadal’s blistered and bloody left hand look ready to fall off, he could not come up with sustained brilliance when it mattered most. The young shotmaker played poorly in the second and third-set tiebreaks and fell 3-6 7-6 (3) 7-6 (7) 6-2.

He missed two critical and easy forehands in the third-set breaker, one on his own set point and another on Nadal’s. After the Spaniard had missed an easy inside out forehand – a shot he struggled with most of the day – Dimitrov had the whole court open at 6-5 after hitting an excellent serve and he yanked an easy forehand wide. Dimitrov then put away a sweet backhand volley to 7-6, but Nadal responded with smart net rush of his own and grabbed the point with a nifty forehand volley. With Nadal holding a set point at 8-7, Dimitrov looked at a sitter forehand in the middle of the court, leaped up in the air and again yanked it wide. The set was gone and so were his chances at a win as Nadal out muscled him the rest of the way.

“I’m a bit shattered,” Dimitrov said. “It’s tough losing that match, my first quarterfinal. I came out expecting nothing less than to win. … Of course I’m deeply disappointed. I’m not going to lie. All the credit to Rafa. I think he played a great match. He’s not one of the best, I think he’s the best player right now. Of course I shed a few tears, but it should hurt. It should hurt. And it does hurt, so …  I can take a lot of things, but at the moment I’m just a bit all over the place.”

Nadal’s left hand contains a huge blister the size of an Australian 50 cent coin. He can’t serve hard because he’s afraid that his racquet is going to fall out of his hand. He is hoping that in two days – when he takes on Roger Federer – that his hand will feel a little better and he can serve with more force, but he suffered quite a bit on Wednesday.  Not as much as Djokovic did, who has already headed back to Serbia, but enough to wear a grimace on his face all day long.

But Nadal does not  seem to mind as his desire burns deep. Next up for him will be one of his greatest rivals, Federer, who wore down Andy Murray in four sets, and who has been on fire at the tournament. However, Federer hasn’t beaten Nadal at a major since 2007 Wimbledon. Even if Nadal is dripping blood, he will fight like crazy to each the final.

“The emotion to keep playing, the motivation to win the match makes you resist little bit more and little bit more, and you always want little bit more,” Nadal said.  “You are ready mentally, you can always resist little bit more.”

Radwanska finally gets over on Azarenka again

Agnieszka Radwanska was not in the same position as Wawrinka or Dimitrov was entering their matches,  but she had been in a bad way the past two years against fellow 24-year-old Victoria Azarenka. On Wednesday she played more freely against then than she has at any time in recent memory and pulled off a 6-1 5-7 6-0 upset. Azarenka complimented Radwanska on playing amazingly well, but also said that she was too predictable and wasn’t thinking hard enough. But for Radwanska – who blew a huge chance at Wimbledon last year to win a maiden Slam–  it was a standout performance, especially from the mental side. Her creative side and quickness is always there but her confidence is elusive against the elite.

The little magician has admitted that it took her a while get over her loss to Sabine Lisicki in the semifinals of 2013 Wimbledon when she was the highest remaining seed left in he draw, but she found a way to look at the future.

“Of course, losing matches like at Wimbledon, it’s always disappointing. It’s kind of painful, as well, especially that it was the semifinal of a Grand Slam,” she said. “But I think you’re playing so many tournaments, so many very important matches, that it takes really not much time to forget. I think every Grand Slam is a different story. I’m trying not to really think about other matches, especially tough matches that I lost.”

Radwanska will face Dominika Cibulkova in the semis on Thursday, whom she says she has known since they were facing off as 8- or 9-year-olds in Eastern Europe. She will be favored in that match and will be seen as an equal to Li Na should they meet in the final, assuming Li finds away to put down Canadian teen Genie Bouchard. Then another golden opportunity will be presented to her.

“I think this is the level everybody playing great tennis,” Radwanska said. “Well, it’s a bit more pressure.  This is the semifinal of a Grand Slam.  Especially here, first time for me.  Hopefully I will play the same tennis as today.”

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