Rafael Nadal advanced to his first major final since the 2014 French Open with a stirring 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4 win over Grigor Dimitrov to book his spot opposite Roger Federer in Sunday’s championship match. The Spaniard will be aiming to break a tie with Pete Sampras for second on the all-time major title list and win his 15th Slam. Nadal will also be looking to become the first man to win the career Grand Slam twice in the Open era.
The first game was a sign of things to come as Nadal fended off two break points to post an opening hold. In the fourth game, the Spaniard built a 15-40 lead on Dimitrov’s serve. The Bulgarian saved the first break point with an ace, but a blistering forehand down the line forced a Dimitrov forehand volley error and it was 3-1 to the 14-time Grand Slam champion.
The rest of the set was routine holds and at 5-3, Nadal served out the set to 15, a forehand-volley combination closing out the set and putting the 2009 champion a set to the good.
Dimitrov drew first blood in the second set, breaking to love. Aggressive hitting forced a Nadal backhand slice wide to set up triple break point and a forehand wide by the Spaniard gave Dimitrov a 3-1 lead. Ahead 4-2, he lost his advantage. After saving break point at 30-40 with a forehand winner, Nadal set up a second break point with a backhand winner and a Dimitrov double-fault put the set back on serve.
After trading breaks to see Dimitrov lead 5-4, Nadal saved four set points to level the score at 5-5. More aggressiveness, this time in the form of a volley winner, saw Dimitrov at 15-40 with two more set points and when Nadal’s backhand was long, the Bulgarian captured the second set 7-5, squaring the match at one set all.
The third set saw Nadal with two break chances at 1-1, but good serving got Dimitrov out of trouble. He wasn’t as fortunate the next time he served as his backhand let him down. At 30-30, he missed just wide and at 30-40, his slice went long to hand Nadal the break. Undeterred, the 2014 Wimbledon semifinalist came back to break and return the set to parity, where it would stay until it eventually went to a tiebreak.
After trading minibreaks to open, the set would swing back-and-forth until finally at 6-5, a limp forehand from Dimitrov found the bottom of the net after another grueling rally, Nadal taking the tiebreak 7-5 and with it, a two sets to one lead.
The fourth set was all about the server as both men held all six times they stepped up to the line. The closest either player came to a break was in the fourth game as Nadal got to deuce on the Dimitrov serve.
The tiebreaker produced the first minibreak for the Bulgarian as Nadal’s backhand missed well long to give Dimitrov a 3-2 lead. That lead would be increased to 6-3, bringing up set point. After a Nadal forehand winner saved the first, the 15th seed’s strong serve won him the tiebreaker 7-4 to force a fifth and deciding set.
Now approaching the four-hour mark, this instant classic headed to a final set. The opening game was a struggle, 16 points and three break chances for Nadal, all erased by Dimitrov. After the Spaniard saved a break point in his first service game of the set when a Dimitrov forehand flew errantly off of his racket, he nearly took the lead again at 2-2, but a missed backhand eventually led to a Dimitrov hold and a 3-2 lead.
The key sequence came with the Bulgarian leading 4-3 and now with 15-40 on the Spaniard’s serve, a golden opportunity for Dimitrov to break and serve out the match, but a cold winner followed by a forehand volley putaway ended those thoughts as Nadal went on to hold. The next game proved to be decisive as an unlucky net cord set up break point for Nadal, which he would go on to convert with a backhand down the line, taking a 5-4 lead and serving for the match.
Dimitrov would challenge Nadal, getting to 30-30, but an ace set up match point. Dimitrov would save that and another, but on his third chance, Nadal finally finished off the encounter when one last Dimitrov backhand went just over the baseline–the Spaniard and tennis fans the victor in this 4 hour-56 minute spectacle.