Blister on hand becoming sore point for Nadal
Federer finds blistering form ahead of semi-final clash with Spanish rival
Rafael Nadal has suffered career-threatening injuries in the past, yet a blister on his hand could be all Roger Federer needs to gain a vital advantage in their Australian Open semi-final on Friday.
Nadal, 27, has been forced to play the season-opening grand slam with bandages across his left hand due to the sore, which is painful enough to compromise his aggressive style of play.
Holding the racket is not a problem and he remains able to hit his powerful topspin forehand, but the world No 1 has found it difficult to control his serve as the tournament has progressed.
“Serving with this injury leads to problems with the rest of my game,” he said. “When you lose confidence with one shot, an important shot, then you are not able to feel comfortable about the rest of your shots.
“I will try to improve that. If not, I won’t have a chance of being in the final.”
That Nadal has identified such an innocuous injury, given that his creaky knees have been bothering him for years, as a potential key to winning his semi-final shows how aware he is that Federer may be playing as well as ever.
The Swiss, 32, had a terrible 2013, winning one tournament and falling to sixth in the world.
He entered the Australian Open with his lowest seeding at the season-opening grand slam since 2002, when he was ranked 13th in the world. Last year’s performances allowed pundits to suggest the Swiss’s time had come.
He had reached one grand slam semi-final since winning a 17th major by beating Andy Murray at Wimbledon in 2012 and was losing more to players outside the top four than he had previously.
In the past 10 days at Melbourne Park, however, Federer has appeared to be close to his best. He claimed a fourth-round victory over No 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and beat No 4 Andy Murray in Wednesday’s quarter-final.
“It’s an amazing result for me to be in the semis again. This one feels different because of the tougher times I’ve had in slams, Wimbledon, at the US Open,” the four time champion at Melbourne Park said.
“I definitely sensed that... I am back physically. I’m explosive out there. I can get to balls. I’m not afraid to go for balls. Of course, last year at times I couldn’t do it, but the important thing is that I can do it now.”
Despite his blister, Nadal will enter the semi-final as the favourite, owning a 22-10 career record against Federer. The Spaniard won their last four meetings, as well as their Melbourne Park semi-final two years ago.
“He’s been tough to play against, no doubt. I’m happy I get a chance to play him in a slam again. I don’t remember the last time we played,” Federer said.
“The head-to-head record is in his favour. I’m looking forward to speaking to [coach] Stefan [Edberg], because when we spoke together, when he came to Dubai and we spoke about the game, we clearly spoke about playing Rafa, as well. He thought he had some good ideas, so I’m looking forward to what he has to say.”