Why Federer might have upper hand

"I've been saying for four years Federer should have switched to a bigger racket," Gilbert said. "I'm surprised he didn't stick with it for the entire summer [in 2013]. It's really helping him with his return and backhand."

And health?

"This might be as good as I have seen him in three or four years," Gilbert added. "He's playing great defense, jump-sliding and hitting those squash shots. He's moving unbelievably well. His back is finally healthy."

Federer's run to the final four in Australia ends a terrifying stretch that saw him go out in the second round of Wimbledon last year and then in the fourth round of the US Open, a sequence of events that left the tennis sphere very much doubting whether we'd ever see another vintage run.

And now look where we are: Federer had won 14 straight sets until Murray took the third in their quarterfinal matchup. And this from a guy who is 32 years and 169 days old. If Federer can navigate past Nadal, he would become the fourth-oldest player to reach the Australian Open final. Federer, for one, knows that these opportunities are precious at this point in his career.

"Yeah, things don't get easier," he said. "But at the same time they might become more enjoyable. Maybe I can play with less pressure. Maybe I just love it. I still love competition. Still feel maybe there's something big around the corner.

"You know, I'm just trying to find out and see if that's the case. I do feel it is. But only time will tell if it's possible or not."

Speaking of time, Nadal is hoping he has enough to heal his latest malady, but as Gilbert said, no other player in the world could have prevailed under those circumstances except him.

"His will and competitive spirit are unlike anyone else's in the game," Gilbert said. "And let's face it, that blister isn't going away. I saw it. It's the size of a quarter. It's nasty."

But in the crucible of sports, stuff happens. For Nadal, considering his long litany of injuries, notably his precarious knees, a hand wound isn't going to keep him from a shot at more history. If Nadal goes on to win the Australian Open, that would give him two titles at each Slam. Only the great Rod Laver can say that. It also would give Rafa 14 major titles, tying him with Pete Sampras for second all time, leaving him only three behind Federer.

If that were to happen, you'd better believe the greatest-of-all-time debate will be as fierce as it has ever been. And considering Nadal's age, 27, and his passion to play as long as he physically can, the possibility of perching himself atop the pantheon of this sport is a very real possibility.

But as provocative as that sounds to us, Nadal is taking his run in Melbourne one blister at a time.

"I feel that with the tape I can lose the racket when I serving," Nadal told reporters after defeating Dimitrov. "That's my feeling, no? The racket can go. That's a terrible feeling for a serve, because then when you have this feeling you are not able to accelerate at the right moment.

"You lose a little bit the coordination. Yeah, that's a big deal. But right, I served slower. I served bad. I was able to win a match against a very difficult opponent, so that has much more value than when everything is great."

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