Rafael Nadal has reduced seventh seed Matteo Berrettini to a grand slam pretender in an Australian Open semi-final victory that was equal parts ruthless and gritty.
A Wimbledon finalist last year, when he was runner-up to Novak Djokovic, Berrettini was made to look second rate for long periods in Friday's 6-3 6-2 3-6 6-3 loss on Rod Laver Arena.
He fought back in the third set but was ultimately outworked by the Spanish veteran, who recovered from heat stroke suffered during his epic five-set quarter-final win over Dennis Shapovalov.
The result put Nadal one win away from a record 21st major title and a second at Melbourne Park, where he last tasted success in 2009.
"It means a lot to be in the final again here," he said.
"I never thought about another chance in 2022 so I'll just try to enjoy the victory of today and then after tomorrow I will try my best."
The 35-year-old will meet second seed Daniil Medvedev in Sunday's final after the Russian survived another dramatic chapter in his rivalry with Stefanos Tsitsipas to win 7-6 (7-5) 4-6 6-4 6-1 on Friday night.
It was one-way traffic early as Nadal picked apart Berrettini's service game and hammered his backhand in the opening two sets, leading to a succession of unforced errors.
Berrettini broke Nadal for the first time in his career - they had only met once before, in a 2019 US Open semi-final - to ensure he claimed the third set.
But it wasn't enough as the more experienced of the two steadied to secure his 500th career hard-court win in just under three hours.
"I started the match playing great - first two sets have been one of the best since long time," Nadal said.
"Then I know how good is Matteo, he's a very solid player, very dangerous.
"In the third, I know at some point he's gonna go for the shots and then I think I didn't play a good game with my serve at 4-3.
"He played some great shots - a passing shot down the line, unbelievable - then we need to suffer and we need to fight in the fourth again."
Nadal joins Djokovic and Roger Federer as only the third man in the open era to reach six or more finals at Melbourne Park.
Sunday will be his 29th grand slam title decider as he looks to pull clear of fellow 20-time major winners Djokovic and Federer.
"For me it's all about the Australian Open more than anything else," Nadal said.
"It's an amazing event and as I said a couple of days ago I have been a little bit unlucky during my career with some injuries.
"I have played amazing finals with good chances against Novak 2012, against Roger 2017 ... I was close a couple of times and I feel very lucky that I won once in my career - 2009."
Berrettini might have spent his energy early when he practiced for an hour hitting balls under the scorching sun on Rod Laver Arena before midday.
Rain throughout the afternoon altered the conditions and led to the venue's roof being closed for the match.
Australian Associated Press
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