Federer to face old foe Nadal

MELBOURNE - Record Grand Slam champion Roger Federer set up a mouth-watering Australian Open semi-final with Rafael Nadal after beating Andy Murray in the last eight yesterday.

The Swiss sixth seed downed the Wimbledon champion 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (6/8), 6-3 in 3hr 20min.

Federer largely dominated the match and had two match points in a third-set tie-breaker, only for Murray to fight back and take the quarter-final into a fourth set.

Murray fought off six break points in a titanic 19-minute service game in the fourth set, but was broken in the eighth game when Federer volleyed into an empty court.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion then served out for the match, winning it on his third overall match point to set up a keenly awaited date with his great rival Nadal tomorrow.

Following his victory, Federer trails Murray 11-10 head-to-head. The Swiss legend is into his 11th consecutive semi-final at Melbourne Park.

It was the first time that Briton Murray had lost in five quarter-finals at the Australian Open.

Federer, who is working with Swedish six-time Grand Slam winner Stefan Edberg, looked mainly in confident touch and hit 54 winners with 42 unforced errors, along with four service breaks.

"I thought Andy did well, he kept the ball in play and put the pressure on me. Unfortunately, I couldn't get it done in the third set, with either the serve or the forehand missing. So I am happy to get the win in four (sets)," Federer said.

His reasonably smooth passage was in stark contrast to that of Nadal.

The Spaniard, who could become only the second man in the Open era to win all four Grand Slam titles at least twice, admitted that he "got lucky" in his 3-6, 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (9/7), 6-2 win over Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov.

He was referring to the third set, when Dimitrov had set point at 6-5 on the Nadal serve, and then another two in the tie-break, and could have taken a two sets to one lead.

But world No. 1 Nadal hit back to take the tie-breaker 9-7 before easing through the fourth to book his place in the last four.

Nadal, who had treatment for blisters on his left hand, admitted that he was in discomfort throughout. He said: "Especially with the serve. The rest (of the time, it's) more or less fine, but I feel like (when I'm) on the serve, I may (drop) the racket. It's fine, I am going to try to keep improving it tomorrow. The blister is much better, but if I am not playing with protection, it is much worse."

The Australian Open was left without a defending champion in the semi-finals for the first time in the professional era, when Victoria Azarenka followed Novak Djokovic out of the door on Wednesday.

Azarenka, the women's champion for the last two years, tumbled out with a 6-1, 5-7, 6-0 loss to Agnieszka Radwanska.