MELBOURNE, Australia -- Rafael Nadal continued his dominant streak over Roger Federer to reach the Australian Open final for the third time, beating the 17-time major winner, 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-3, on Friday night to set up a championship decider against No. 8-seeded Stan Wawrinka.
Nadal now has won 23 of his 33 matches against Federer, including nine of 11 in the majors. The 27-year-old Spaniard is one victory away from being the first man in the Open era to win all four majors at least twice, and from joining Pete Sampras in second place on the list of all-time Grand Slam tournament winners with 14.
At the end of the night, Federer knew he wouldn't even be the No. 1-ranked player in Switzerland next week. By reaching the final, Wawrinka ensured he'd replace Federer as their country's highest-ranked player for the first time.
Nadal missed the 2013 Australian Open during a seven-month layoff for illness and a knee injury, but returned to win the French Open and U.S. Open among his 10 titles for the season and finished the year at No. 1.
“It's really, really emotional for me to be back on this court, Rod Laver Arena, and to be able to play another final,” Nadal said.
His previous match against Federer in a Grand Slam was here in 2012, when he beat him in four sets in the semifinals before losing the five-set, five-hour, 53-minute final to Novak Djokovic.
Nadal is now second on the list of players reaching Grand Slam finals, joining Ivan Lendl on 19 — Federer leads the list with 24, but hasn't figured in a major final since winning Wimbledon in 2012.
The crowd was overwhelmingly behind the 32-year-old Federer, growing more animated the further he fell behind. There was a huge cheer when Federer won a challenge on a call to hold and make it 2-all in the second set after facing break point. The first break of the match — for Nadal — came in the sixth game of the second set.
Federer then got a standing ovation and a giant roar from the crowd when he broke Nadal back to make it 2-all in the third set, immediately after dropping serve in the previous game.
The crowd chanted, “Let's Go Roger,” until Federer was ready to serve again. He was broke again soon after.
Nadal has struggled with a blister on the palm of his left hand in his last two matches. A TV camera got a close-up view of the blister when he took a medical timeout after the first game of the second set, drawing gasps and groans from the crowd.
Wawrinka ended a 14-match losing streak against Djokovic with a dramatic five-set, four-hour win in the quarterfinals, then followed that with a dominating performance against Berdych, a 2010 Wimbledon finalist.
"I don't know what to say. I'm speechless," he said. "I didn't expect to make a final in a Grand Slam — tonight it's happening."
Wawrinka will go into the final as a big underdog. He has never beaten Nadal in 12 meetings, and has lost all but one of his 14 matches against countryman Federer.
"I take the confidence from my level in general," he said. "I know that I'm playing my best tennis."
Wawrinka has long been in Federer's shadow as Switzerland's less heralded No. 2, but he's been slowly gaining confidence in his game since narrowly losing a heartbreaking marathon match to Djokovic in Melbourne last year.
In April, he hired a new coach — Magnus Norman, a former Swedish player once ranked as high as No. 2. Since then, he's risen to a career-high No. 8 in the rankings and reached his first Grand Slam semifinal at the U.S. Open.
Now he's taken the next step into the final of a major, where he could meet his good friend and sometime doubles partner, Federer.
Wawrinka said he received a text message from Federer on Wednesday night saying he was really happy there were two Swiss players in the semifinals of a major for the first time.
"I told him, 'For you it's normal, for me it's not normal,'" he joked.
Federer, who has reached his 11th consecutive semifinal at the Australian Open, said he'd love to see an all-Swiss final at Melbourne Park.
"Hopefully he can make it. Then he can put the pressure on me," Federer said after his quarterfinal win over Andy Murray on Wednesday.
Wawrinka jumped out to the early lead against Berdych, getting the only break of the match when the seventh-seeded Czech player, looking tentative at the start, made several misses on his forehand before driving an easy overhead long.
With neither player giving anything on his service games after that, Berdych was the first to crack in the crucial tiebreakers. He double-faulted twice in the third-set tiebreaker, including on set point, and then again in the fourth-set breaker.
Little separated the two players in the match — Wawrinka won total 143 points to Berdych's 142, and each made 49 unforced errors. The Swiss player served a little more consistently, though, facing only one break point in the match.
"It's really hard to find what could be the difference," Berdych said. "I mean, we both play great. We play a good match. Stan was the one that just took it, and that's it."
She'll meet Chinese No. 4-seeded Li Na, who reached her third final in four years at Melbourne Park with a 6-2, 6-4 win over 19-year-old Canadian Eugenie Bouchard.
In a women's tournament full of surprising results, Cibulkova's run has been the most dramatic. The diminutive Slovak has won all but one of her matches in straight sets and only needed 70 minutes to win her first Grand Slam semifinal.
"When you look at it this way, it is nice for me. I didn't spend so much time on the court," said Cibulkova, who also took out No. 3-seeded Maria Sharapova in the fourth round.
Li, the 2011 French Open champion, was the only major winner remaining in the semis after Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Sharapova all fell. After saving a match point in the third round against Lucie Safarova, she's the favorite to finally win an Australian title.
"I was really feeling after the match I was getting a second life in this tournament," she said. "In China, we say if you have tough time, you pass that, [and] it means you [will] be so lucky."