MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (JANUARY 24, 2014) (TENNIS AUSTRALIA) - A ruthless Rafa Nadal crushed his great rival Roger Federer 7-6(4) 6-3 6-3 on Friday in an awesome display of raw power and precision to reach his third Australian Open final.
Dominating Federer in the first set tiebreak, the Spaniard broke twice to charge through the second, and captured the decisive break in the third at 3-3 when his opponent blasted into the net-cord and the deflection sailed long.
Hitting winners from all corners, Nadal raised two match-points as Federer served to stay in the match and sealed it on the second when the shell-shocked Swiss shanked a forehand long.
Nadal punched his left fist into the night sky and roared in triumph while a demoralised Federer gave a cursory wave before trudging to the exit.
"I need to keep playing great," Nadal said when asked whether he could equalPete Sampras' haul of 14 Grand Slams on Sunday.
"At the end I know it will be a very, very tough opponent. His serve his huge, he is serving great, he is hitting the ball very hard. I need to play very aggressive, and to make him play in not easy positions. That is always very difficult because he is a strong guy and I am going to try and play aggressive and try and play the same way that I played tonight."
The lop-sided result will re-fuel the debate as to the greatest player of all time, with Nadal extending his head-to-head dominance over Federer to 23-10, and thrashing him on a hardcourt, the most democratic of surfaces.
A runaway victory seemed an absurd notion early, as the pair parried and probed in the opening games.
Nadal was impenetrable on serve and demanded Federer meet him in a tiebreak where the Swiss promptly stumbled.
Throwing his opponent from side to side, the Spaniard played it completely on his terms, roaring to a 5-1 lead and closing the set out when Federer sent an increasingly shaky backhand sailing past the baseline.
Frustrated by Nadal's stifling consistency, Federer was further agitated after the Spaniard left the court between sets and then had treatment on his blistered hand at the first change of ends.
Federer was forced to defend three break points at 2-1 and survived only by an inch shown up on the 'Hawk-eye' technology after a successful challenge on a line call.
An outrageous cross-court passing shot steered from a seemingly impossible angle gave Nadal another look at Federer's serve at 3-2 and he smacked an inside-out forehand to leave Federer flat-footed, broken and in deep trouble.
Serving for the set, Nadal wobbled to 0-30, but closed it out with four straight points.
An unkind net-cord put Federer on the rack at 15-40 again on serve, and he was unable to breach it with another backhand to slump to an early break in the third game.
Against all logic and reason, Nadal shanked a forehand to give up two break points and then fired another just past the baseline to allow Federer to break back.
Having been marginally off all night, Federer flirted with the net-cord again and was broken to 4-3.
Smelling blood, Nadal pounced as the teetering Swiss served to stay in the match, closing out the contest with a dizzying array of winners.
Meanwhile top seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci of Italy produced a great escape on Friday as they beat Russia's Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 6-4 3-6 7-5 to retain the Australian Open women's doubles title.
The Russian third seeds led 5-2 in the decider before Errani and Vinci roared back to clinch their fourth grand slam title and retain their world number one ranking.
Victory for Makarova and Vesnina would have lifted them to top spot and when they broke twice to lead 5-2 in the final set, they looked set for the title.
But the Italians stayed strong and won five straight games, clinching victory on their second match point when Vinci fired a forehand return winner down the line.