Nadal earns rematch with Federer

MELBOURNE, Australia -- The Wimbledon final rematch the tennis world has anticipated is now set for Sunday. But Fernando Verdasco nearly spoiled the party with his own landmark performance.

Top-ranked Rafael Nadal outlasted fellow Spaniard Verdasco 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (1), 6-4 Friday to reach the Australian Open final after the longest match in the tournament's history.

Nadal will attempt to keep second-ranked Roger Federer from tying Pete Sampras' record of 14 major titles on Sunday.

The fans were riveted as the left-handed Davis Cup teammates went at each other for 5 hours and 14 minutes. After all that, having saved two match points, 14th-seeded Verdasco served a double-fault to give Nadal the victory.

"Today was one of those matches you're going to remember a long time," Nadal said. "In the last game, at 0-40, I started to cry. It was too much tension. Fernando was playing, I think, at his best level. He deserved this final, too."

There were no arguments, no gamesmanship, just great shots, with the momentum shifting on a handful of key points.

The previous longest match at Melbourne Park came in 1991, when Boris Becker needed 5 hours, 11 minutes to beat Italian Omar Camporese, with the fifth set going 14-12.

Federer advanced to his 18th Grand Slam final with a straight sets win Thursday against Andy Roddick.

Nadal said it would be tough to recover for his first Grand Slam final on a hard court.

"Roger has a bit of an advantage over me," said Nadal, whose previous best showing at the tournament was reaching the semifinals last year. "He's resting right now. It's tough to sleep after something like this.

"But I want to try my best. It's very important for me to be in this final. Whatever happens on Sunday, I've started the season my best ever."

Verdasco was disappointed that he drained so much energy from his friend.

"Really a pity," Verdasco said. "I want him to be 100 percent to play that final. I wish him the best of luck. I hope that he will win."

With the arena's namesake, Rod Laver -- a pretty good lefty in his own right -- in the crowd and Spanish flags scattered around, Nadal found his renowned defense tested to the limit as Verdasco ripped 95 winners. But while he bent, he never broke, committing fewer than 10 unforced errors in every demanding set, including just four in the fifth.

The first set included 75 minutes of long rallies, more associated with a match on clay than hardcourt.

Nadal was serving at 4-3 in the tiebreaker when Verdasco ran off the last four points. The key shot was a backhand that trickled over to give him set point. A sharp volley set up an easy overhead, and the crowd erupted in cheers.

Cool temperatures had come through during the afternoon to ease Melbourne's hottest three-day stretch on record -- daytime temperatures topped 113 degrees -- but the constant sprinting from sideline to sideline left both players draping ice packs wrapped in towels around their shoulders during changeovers.

The high quality of the tennis had fans -- silent during play -- rising to standing ovations for both players for outstanding shots.

Another tiebreaker loomed in the second set with Verdasco serving at 4-5, 40-15. This time it was Nadal, who had been looking a little puzzled and less confident than usual, running off four points in a row.

At deuce, Verdasco hit what appeared to be a volley winner on the 17th shot of a tense rally. The ball was spinning away from Nadal, but he got to it on the dead run, flicking a forehand winner that dropped in the corner to even the match.

Verdasco managed a smile as he watched the replay on the big-screen TV suspended above the court. He sent a forehand long on the next point, and Nadal pumped his fist in celebration.

They swapped four service breaks in the third set, and the second tiebreaker quickly went Nadal's way, with Verdasco looking increasingly drained.

He called for the trainer to massage his left calf for apparent cramps twice during changeovers early in the fourth set and was clearly favoring it. But he worked through the pain.

The third tiebreaker was all Verdasco as he raced to a 6-0 lead while forcing a deciding fifth set. It was the first time Nadal had ever lost a Grand Slam tiebreaker while winning only one point.

There is no tiebreak in the fifth set at the Australian Open, so the win hinged on the ability of either Nadal or Verdasco to break serve.

Verdasco saved five break points in the fifth set before finally faltering. Serving at 4-5 he fell behind 0-40 to set up three match points for Nadal. He saved two with swinging volley winners, then double-faulted -- only his fourth of the match. Both players dropped flat on the surface before Nadal got up, jumped over the net and gave his friend a hug.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.