Spain's Rafael Nadal struggled to cope with a blister on his left hand and nearly went down two sets to one against talented Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, but he ended up pulling out a 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (9-7), 6-2 victory Wednesday afternoon to advance to the Australian Open semifinals, where arch-rival Roger Federer awaits.
The world No. 1, who had his dominant hand taped up and needed treatment for the injury, saved three set points in the third set - one when serving at 5-6 and two more in the tiebreaker - to get past the 22-year-old Bulgarian, who was making his first appearance in a Grand Slam quarterfinal.
"I was really lucky in the tiebreaker and a I suffered a lot," Nadal said afterward, explaining that he had trouble with the serve because of the tape and that the racquet at times felt like it was going to fly out of his hand.
Nadal's lack of feel was also evident with the forehand, as the Spaniard made 27 unforced errors off his stronger wing.
Adding to Nadal's frustration were a group of Bulgarian fans who hurled insults at the Spaniard whenever he approached their area of the stadium.
Dimitrov, nicknamed "Baby Federer" because his game resembles the Swiss great's, served impressively throughout most of the match and ended up with 16 aces to just three for Nadal. But he let the match slip through his hands when he squandered the three set points, one of them with an unforced error on an easy forehand.
The Bulgarian kept fighting and saved three match points in the fourth set, but the deficit was too great for him to avoid dropping his fourth straight contest against Nadal.
Next up for the Spaniard in the semifinals will be the 32-year-old Federer, who has been rejuvenated after switching to a bigger racquet and hiring Swedish former star Stefan Edberg as a part-time coach.
Federer, the No. 6 seed, got revenge on fourth-seeded Andy Murray for a semifinal loss at this same event last year, comfortably winning Wednesday's night match 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (6-8), 6-3.
The 27-year-old Nadal has a lifetime 8-2 record against Federer in Grand Slam matches, but his blister problem and the faster conditions at this year's Australian Open prompted German former great Boris Becker to tab Federer as the clear favorite for the title. EFE