Australian Open 2017: Rafael Nadal vs Grigor Dimitrov semi-final preview
The Spaniard and the Bulgarian will lock horns for a place in Sunday's final against Roger Federer.
The 2nd semi-final of the Australian Open 2017 is a lot more than a match between the world no. 9 and the world no. 15 – it is a tussle between the resurgence of a former champion and the fight of an underachieved talent.
The match between Rafael Nadal and Grigor Dimitrov for a spot in the final will be intriguing and unlike anything we have witnessed before. Let us look at their respective journeys to the semifinal, their records against each other and the way the match is likely to unfold.
Road to the semi-final
Nadal has shown tremendous vigour to be one of the last three men standing in Melbourne in the singles arena. His draw was probably the toughest of the ‘Big 4’ and yet, he has found his way to yet another semi-final at the Australian Open. He beat Mayer and Baghdatis in straight sets before his third round epic match against Alexander Zverev – the match which protracted to five tough and tiring sets.
After that battle, he went on to win in four sets against Gael Monfils and steamrolled an injured Raonic in straight sets in the quarter-final.
Grigor Dimitrov has been excellent, to say the least. He has dropped just two sets on his route to the semi-final and looks ready for the challenge. He lost one set to “The Professor” Chung Hyeon and another to Denis Istomin, the player who knocked out Novak Djokovic. He saw through the challenges posed by Christopher O’Connell, Richard Gasquet and David Goffin in straight sets.
It looks like Nadal’s confidence and self-assurance are back. He looks ready for every challenge and is now a strong contender for lifting the trophy at the Rod Laver Arena. His forehand is as sharp as ever and his movement looks smooth. He has surpassed every test thrown at him this year and has a strong chance of joining his friend and on-court foe, Roger Federer, in the final.
Dimitrov truly turned his game around after his loss to Steve Johnson in Wimbledon last year, when he fell to No. 40 in the ATP rankings. Since then, he has shown tremendous potential and promise to grind his way back to the top 20.
His association with Vallverdu has done great things for his game and he started off the year in style to lift the trophy at the Brisbane International. The 25-year-old is playing well in Melbourne and has displayed impressive control from the baseline.
Head to Head
The head to head between the Spaniard and the Bulgarian tilts strongly in the former’s favour – Nadal has won 7 out of their 8 encounters. However, Dimitrov got the better of the Spaniard in their latest meeting in Beijing in October last year which was a hardcourt competition.
Their only meeting at the Australian Open was in the 2014 quarter-final, where Nadal prevailed in 4 tight sets, two of which were tiebreakers.
I would expect Nadal to come through in 4 or 5 taut and tiring sets. He has got the better of the Bulgarian in the past and has the ability to pull out his best game in the deeper stages of a Grand Slam.
For Dimitrov to have a fighting chance in the semi-final, he needs to show intent from the outset. “Baby Fed” will need to play the best tennis of his life today, if he intends to rattle the Spaniard and face Roger Federer in the final. Strong baseline play and positive shot making will be essential for his success, but it may be a mountain too tall for him to climb.