The last time they met in Melbourne, Federer was left a weeping wreck when Nadal remorselessly ground him down in 2009’s nail-biting five-set final to claim his first hardcourt grand slam title.
It was just months after Nadal had won their epic 2008 Wimbledon title match, with Federer left hanging on 13 grand slam wins — one behind Pete Sampras’s record.
Three years later, and with 16 major trophies in the bag, Federer admitted he was itching for another crack at Nadal, who aimed an unaccustomed barb at his long-time sparring partner on the eve of the tournament.
‘Obviously I’d like to play Rafa because of our great epic match earlier in the finals here a few years ago. I’d like to get a chance to play him again here,’ said Federer.
Federer trails Nadal 17-9 in head-to-head clashes and 7-2 in grand slams, and has not beaten him in a major since the Wimbledon final of 2007. But he remains undaunted as he chases his first slam in two years.
The four-time champion admitted it was strange to meet Nadal in their first grand slam semi-final since the 2005 French Open — their debut major meeting — now he has dropped to number three in the rankings and seedings.
‘I guess it’s a nice change-up,’ he said. ‘OK, it doesn’t allow a rematch for the Australian Open final here, you know... but I think it’s good for tennis that it changes up a bit.’
Nadal, who at 25 is five years younger than Federer, said a match with the Swiss is always ‘special’ regardless of their ranking.
‘The ranking is important, but when we talk about a player who won 16 grand slams and I won 10 and we played a lot of matches between each other, and all in very important moments for our careers and very high moments,’ he said.
‘But for everything, for what the match represents, all the matches against him are special and will be special even if we are (ranked) 20 against 25,’ he added.
Most of Nadal’s wins over Federer have come on his favoured clay and he insisted the Swiss would always be favourite on hard courts. But Nadal warned he would bring his renowned aggression to the fore against Federer.
‘He’s playing fantastic and he had a fantastic end of the season last year. So he’s coming with confidence. It will be a very, very difficult match for me, and I will try,’ he said.
‘I know I will be on court playing against probably the best of the history, playing well. So obviously my only way and my only chance to win is play aggressive, play very well, and to play to the limit.’
The two rivals have always been on good terms so it was a surprise when Nadal fired a broadside on the eve of the tournament, saying Federer should be doing more to support his fellow pros in their grievances.
But Federer diplomatically deflected the short-lived row.
‘It was here for one day and then gone again. I’m happy about that, because it didn’t deserve more attention,’ he said.