Nadal, 1 step away from the record after advancing to the final in Australia

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Rafael Nadal is one win away from his 21st Grand Slam title, a record in men’s tennis.

The 35-year-old Spaniard advanced to his sixth Australian Open final after beating Italy’s Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 on Friday.

He arrived in Australia not knowing how long he would last in the tournament after months away from the circuit to recover from injuries and after passing COVID-19.

He won a title in the preparation tournaments and chained six wins in the first Grand Slam of the season.

One more and he will break the record of 20 majors he shares with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. In addition, he would become the fourth man to win the Big Four on at least two occasions.

In Sunday’s title match, the winner of the semi-final that later faces US Open champion Daniil Medvedev of Russia will meet Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.

Nadal’s victory over Berrettini, in a match that had to be played with the roof of the Rod Laver Arena closed due to heavy rain, was the 500th of his career on a hard court. In his record there is only one other Australian Open, the one he achieved in 2009.

Adding another was his only goal after the semifinal.

“The biggest thing for me is the Australian Open,” he said in the on-court television interview. “I’ve had a little bit of bad luck (here) in my career with some injuries. I’ve played some amazing finals with good opportunities”.

“I feel very lucky to have won once. I never thought I would get another chance in 2022.”

Nadal broke seventh-seeded Berrettini in the opening games of the first and second sets, and after giving up the third, came from behind in the fourth to seal victory in just under three hours. That in itself was a relief after the long five-set game against Denis Shapovalov in the quarter-final two days earlier.

The Spaniard is the only one of the so-called Big Three who had a chance to break the tie in Australia this year. Federer did not travel to continue his recovery from knee surgery.

And Djokovic, who won nine of his Grand Slams at Melbourne Park, was deported on the eve of the tournament for failing to comply with the country’s strict COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

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