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MELBOURNE, Australia – The usually diplomatic Roger Federer didn't bother concealing his preference for semifinal winners at the Australian Open.
He wanted an all-Swiss final, the first ever in a Grand Slam. Eighth-ranked Stanislas Wawrinka held up his end of the bargain with a 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4) win over Tomas Berdych to reach his first major final.
Now the pressure is on the 17-time major winner to complete the match up. The major obstacle in his path: a semifinal against Rafael Nadal.
Now it's Iron Stan's turn to sit back and watch two of the greatest players ever do battle Friday for the right to meet him in Sunday's final.
"For sure I'm going to really, really enjoy," Wawrinka said. "I'm going to watch the match tomorrow in front of my TV, maybe with some popcorn.
"I always try to watch when they play because you can always learn. You can always see the best tennis ever on the tour."
The 33rd installment of the Nadal-Federer rivalry — the 11th in Grand Slams — should be enthralling viewing. Wawrinka's joked that he'd prefer a walkover most of all, but likes the idea of a Swiss decider.
"My record against Rafa is not really good, and neither against Roger, but for sure to play a Swiss final will be amazing," he said. Federer "is the best player ever. For me it's my first final. To play against Roger would be amazing."
Federer is into his 11th consecutive semifinal at Melbourne Park — he has won five and gone on to win four finals.
"This one feels different because of the tougher times I've had in Slams," said Federer, who lost in the second round at Wimbledon and the fourth round at the U.S. Open last year when he was struggling with muscle injuries and getting to terms with a new, bigger racket. To get this far he had to beat 2008 finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round and Wimbledon champion Andy Murray in the quarterfinals.
He said he was inspired by Wawrinka's upset quarterfinal win over three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic. Federer watched it on TV and caught himself fist-pumping when Wawrinka won big points.
Left-hander Nadal has a commanding 22-10 lead in head-to-heads against Federer. His 8-2 lead in Grand Slams includes the 2009 Australian final and the semifinals here in 2012.
"We've had some epics," Federer said. "I hope we can slug it out."
Wawrinka has never beaten Nadal in a dozen attempts and has only one victory over Federer in 14 attempts. Then again, he'd lost 14 straight to Djokovic until his upset earlier this week, and that was a confidence boost. It was tight against Berdych, with just one service break in the match and only one point between them in the end.
To reach the final "it's because I beat Berdych tonight; I won against Novak also. I had some great matches," he said. "So that mean's I have the level to be there."
The 28-year-old Wawrinka reached the semifinals at the U.S. Open last year — his best previous run at a major — before losing to Djokovic in five sets. He has gone a step further this time — reaching a Grand Slam final at his 36th attempt.
Nadal was bothered by blisters on his left hand during his win over Grigor Dimitrov, the 22-year-old Bulgarian who took the first set off him in their quarterfinal and also had set points in the third. He had the hand heavily taped during the match, and admitted it affected his serve. He practiced on Thursday without all the tape, avoiding a lot of attention while the women's semifinals were on.
The women's final will feature 2011 French Open champion Li Na in her third Australian Open decider in four years against Dominika Cibulkova, who had never previously gone beyond the semifinals of a major.
No. 4-seeded Li Na won the first five games in her 6-2, 6-4 semifinal win over 19-year-old Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, and No. 20-seeded Cibulkova later trounced 2012 Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 6-2.
In her loss to Victoria Azarenka in last year's final, Li twisted her ankle and fell over twice, and knocked her head hard on the court.
"I think is the third time, so pretty close to the trophy," Li said. "Yeah, at least I try to not fall down this time, because last year in the final I think I played well but I only can say I was unlucky. At least I'll try to enjoy and stay healthy."