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Nadal reaches Australian Open final, within 1 win of record

Rafael Nadal is now within one victory of a record 21st Grand Slam singles title.

The 35-year-old Spaniard advanced to the Australian Open final for a sixth time with a 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 win Friday over Matteo Berrettini.

He arrived in Australia not knowing how long he'd last after months off the tour recovering from injuries and then a bout of COVID-19.

Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts during his semifinal against Matteo Berrettini of Italy at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. (AP PhotoHamish Blair)

He won a title at a tune-up tournament and now has won six matches at the first Grand Slam tournament of the year.

One more and he'll break record of 20 majors he shared with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. He'll also become just the fourth man in history to win all four of the Grand Slam titles at least twice.

In the championship match on Sunday, he will play the winner of the later semifinal between U.S. Open champion Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Rafael Nadal of Spain plays a backhand return to Matteo Berrettini of Italy during their semifinal match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. (AP PhotoSimon Baker)

Nadal's win over Berrettini, under a closed roof at Rod Laver Arena because of heavy local rain, was his 500th on hard courts at tour level. He's only won the title at the Australian Open only once, in 2009.

Adding a second was his only focus after yet another semifinal win.

“For me, it’s all about the Australian Open more than anything else,” he said in his on-court TV interview. “I have been a little unlucky (here) in my career with some injuries. I played some amazing finals with good chances.

Matteo Berrettini of Italy reacts during his semifinal against Rafael Nadal of Spain at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. (AP PhotoAndy Brownbill)

“I feel very lucky that I won once. I never though about another chance in 2022.”

Nadal broke the seventh-seeded Berrettini’s opening service games in the first two sets and, after dropping the third, rallied to finish off in just under three hours. That in itself was a relief after his long five-set win over Denis Shapovalov two days earlier in the quarterfinals.

Nadal was the only member of the so-called Big Three who had a chance to break the deadlock in Australia this time. Federer missed the tournament to continue his recovery from knee surgery.

Matteo Berrettini of Italy reacts during his semifinal against Rafael Nadal of Spain at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. (AP PhotoHamish Blair)

Djokovic, who has won nine of his Grand Slam titles in Australia, was deported on the eve of the tournament for failing to meet the country's strict COVID-19 vaccination criteria.

More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Matteo Berrettini of Italy reacts during his semifinal against Rafael Nadal of Spain at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. (AP PhotoAndy Brownbill)

Rafael Nadal of Spain changes his headband during a break in his semifinal against Matteo Berrettini of Italy at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. (AP PhotoHamish Blair)

Rafael Nadal of Spain reacts after winning the first set against Matteo Berrettini of Italy during their semifinal match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. (AP PhotoHamish Blair)