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Australian Open: Roger Federer still can't figure out Rafael Nadal

By Ravi Ubha, for CNN
January 24, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal beat his great rival Roger Federer 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 6-3 to reach the final of the Australian Open. The Spaniard is bidding to win a 14th grand slam title and his first at Melbourne Park since 2009. World No. 1 Rafael Nadal beat his great rival Roger Federer 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 6-3 to reach the final of the Australian Open. The Spaniard is bidding to win a 14th grand slam title and his first at Melbourne Park since 2009.
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Rafa reigns supreme
Blistering form
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rafael Nadal beats Roger Federer in straight sets to reach Australian Open final
  • World No. 1 will play Federer's fellow Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka in Sunday's decider
  • Top seed Nadal has won each of his past five matches against Federer
  • Nadal improves his record against 17-time grand slam champion to 23-10

Melbourne, Australia (CNN) -- Even a new, high-profile coach couldn't help Roger Federer figure out Rafael Nadal.

Federer hadn't beaten Nadal in seven years in a grand slam -- and on a chilly night in Melbourne the world No. 1 kept the streak alive, improving his record over the Swiss to 23-10 overall as he advanced to the Australian Open final.

The Spaniard pulled out a tight first set and then cruised to a 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 6-3 victory Friday to set up an encounter with Federer's compatriot, Stanislas Wawrinka.

"I played a lot of times against Roger, and a lot of times I played great against him," Nadal told reporters. "So probably that's why I had this success against him."

If Nadal wins Sunday he would rise to 14 majors and tie American Pete Sampras -- in attendance at Rod Laver Arena during a rare foray to a grand slam in retirement -- for second on the men's all-time list behind Federer.

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The odds are heavily stacked in his favor given he is even more dominant against debutant grand slam finalist Wawrinka, not losing a set in their 12 encounters. Wawrinka progressed Thursday by downing Czech Tomas Berdych.

Federer sought the services of Stefan Edberg in an effort to regain his old form and the 32-year-old, troubled by his back in 2013, duly produced big wins over former Australian Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Wimbledon champion Andy Murray this fortnight.

But Nadal's transition from defense to offense thwarted Federer, as he continued to enjoy success employing his heavily spun forehand to the Federer backhand and he served impeccably.

Nadal, who won the French and U.S. Opens last year in a successful return from knee problems, was broken only once -- in the middle of the third set.

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"Playing Murray or Rafa is day and night," Federer told reporters. "It's just every point is played in a completely different fashion and I have to totally change my game."

Edberg was a serve-and-volleyer who triumphed at Wimbledon twice, and Federer wasn't afraid to approach the net.

However, he has used the tactic in the past against Nadal and on Friday won only 55% of net points.

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Indeed Nadal didn't think Federer tried much new -- saying he perused YouTube and watched some of their 2012 Melbourne semifinal, which he also won before losing the title match to Novak Djokovic.

"I think he tried to play very aggressive, taking the ball very early," said Nadal. "But if you go to YouTube and you see the video of the 2012 match, you will see that he was playing very, very aggressive, too, especially the beginning of the match.

"So nothing is completely new."

Nadal's passing shots left the crowd gasping, especially a forehand down the line in the final game.

"Coming into the match I thought we would have a chance today but the way the match came about, Rafa played very, very well and Roger didn't have that many chances," Edberg told a small group of reporters.

"Playing against Rafa at this level is very hard," he added. "It wasn't enough today, but I think he's made a lot of progress over the last three months.

"It's looking good for the rest of the year. He still has a way to go before he is back to the level where he can be."

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Li, Cibulkova set for Melbourne showdown
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Li, Cibulkova set for Melbourne showdown Li, Cibulkova set for Melbourne showdown

Edberg said the match might have turned out differently had Federer broken early in the first set. He likely was referring to the fourth game, when Nadal escaped a 0-30 hole.

Nadal raced to a 5-1 lead in the tiebreak, closed out the set and broke on his eighth chance of the match to take a 4-2 stranglehold in the second.

By that time Nadal took a medical timeout for a lingering blister on his left palm and Federer complained to the chair umpire -- not for the first time in his career -- about the left-hander's grunting.

Despite the loss, Edberg remained upbeat about Federer's chances of achieving an 18th major.

"Roger had a tough year last year," said Edberg. "At least now he feels healthy, which is No. 1. No. 2 he needs to put in a lot of work, which he is doing.

"He just needs to gain a bit more momentum, a bit more confidence. That will come with time. I think in a few months you should see him even better than what we've seen this week."

Nadal, who won the tournament in 2009 but was absent last year, is doing fine at the moment.

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