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Nadal hammers Federer to reach Australian Open final

Melbourne, Australia (SportsNetwork.com) - Rafael Nadal rolled past Roger Federer on Friday to reach the final of the 2014 Australian Open.

The world No. 1 Nadal earned a dominant 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-3 victory over his long-time rival to reach his second Australian Open final in the last three years. He improved to 23-10 in the all-time series against Federer, including 9-2 in Grand Slam events and 3-0 in Melbourne.

"I played well tonight," said Nadal. "I think I played probably my best match of the tournament. So very, very, very happy that I played my best match in that semifinal against Roger. He arrived to that match winning two great matches against Tsonga and (Murray) two days ago. Really very happy the way I played tonight, and very special moment to have the chance to be in another final."

Nadal's opponent in the title match will be eighth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka, who will appear in his first career major final after defeating Tomas Berdych in the semifinals on Thursday.

Federer has now lost in the Aussie Open semifinals four straight years, including a 2012 setback to Nadal, who then went on to lose the final to Novak Djokovic. The Swiss superstar has dropped five in a row overall to Nadal and has lost six straight in majors, last beating the Spaniard in a Grand Slam in the 2007 Wimbledon final.

"I tried to play my game," said Federer. "Sometimes I did play very well and sometimes I didn't. But he overall was more consistent. He deserved to win tonight. I mean, he was better."

Friday's first set was epic. It took 59 minutes and did not feature a break of serve, although Nadal failed on three break chances and didn't allow Federer a break point opportunity.

Federer gave Nadal a 3-1 edge in the tiebreak with a forehand volley into the net and missed a backhand to make it 5-1. One more Federer backhand error gave Nadal the set.

"The first set was very important," noted Nadal. "I played solid at the end of the tiebreak."

Nadal took an injury timeout after the first game of the second set to address a blister on his left hand, then finally broke serve for the first time in the sixth game and took that advantage to earn a two-set cushion.

Federer was broken again in the third game of the third set, but finally answered back with an immediate break in the fourth. Nadal, though, was unfazed and secured the next break for a 4-3 lead and finished Federer with still another break to close the match in 2 hours and 24 minutes.

"I think Rafa does a good job of neutralizing you," Federer commented. "I was hoping that my forehand was going to work out a bit better, but it didn't, so that let me down a bit. Then it was just the lack of opportunities I created for myself, which put the pressure on me too frequently."

Nadal will play in his 19th career Grand Slam final, tying Ivan Lendl for second on the all-time list. Federer tops that chart with 24 major finals and is also first in Grand Slam titles with 17.

But Nadal is closing in.

A win in Sunday's final will give Nadal his 14th career Grand Slam crown, tying him with Pete Sampras for second all-time, and his second Australian Open title. He first won in Melbourne in 2009, beating Federer in the final, and a victory Sunday would make him just the third man to win the career Grand Slam twice, joining Roy Emerson and Rod Laver.

Nadal will be the overwhelming favorite on Sunday, as he'll carry a 12-0 mark against Wawrinka into the final.

"He's playing great," Nadal said about Wawrinka. "He's a good friend, great guy. So happy for him that he's in the final. He deserves it. He's playing better and better every year."

Federer was hoping for an all-Swiss final, saying it was something he'll regret "for a long time," but added that it has been a great start to the 2014 season after a tough year in 2013.

"I think this is a very good start to the season for me overall," said Federer, who lost to Lleyton Hewitt in the final of the Aussie Open tune-up in Brisbane. "I played some really good tennis here. I still feel my best tennis is only ahead of me right now."

His 2013 season featured only one title and no Grand Slam finals for the first time since 2002.