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By Peter Rutherford
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Roger Federer sauntered through at the Australian Open on Tuesday to set up a first grand slam semi-final against Rafa Nadal since 2005 after the Spaniard fought tooth and nail to keep his own hopes alive.
So long ranked one and two in the world rankings, until Novak Djokovic broke their duopoly, their meetings have more often than not been reserved for finals, one of which came three years ago in Melbourne when Nadal reduced Federer to tears.
Federer looked in the mood to add to his 16 grand slam titles when the Swiss third seed produced another sublime display full of dazzling winners to fell Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro 6-4 6-3 6-2 in his 1,000 career match.
Nadal was given a torrid time against Tomas Berdych late into the night on a heaving Rod Laver Arena, however, before grinding to a 6-7 7-6 6-4 6-3 victory.
The stadium also witnessed the demise of women's world number one Caroline Wozniacki, whose counter-punching style was meat and drink to big-hitting Belgian Kim Clijsters.
Her quarter-final defeat against the 2011 champion means she will lose top spot in the rankings and means one of Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka or Petra Kvitova will seize the No.1 position by the end of the year's first grand slam.
While neither Nadal nor Federer can shake the number one ranking free of Djokovic's grasp in Melbourne, the stylish Swiss and swashbuckling Spaniard are desperate to stop the Serb dominating the slams the way he did in 2011.
Federer, who failed to win a major title last year for the first time since 2002, had an unexpectedly straightforward win over del Potro, needing just under two hours to prevail.
Chasing a fifth title in Melbourne, he was never seriously threatened in his first meeting with Del Potro in a major since he was surprisingly beaten in the 2009 U.S. Open final.
Federer, who lost a five-set classic to Nadal in the 2009 Australian Open final, will now get the chance to avenge that defeat against the Spaniard.
"Obviously I'd like to play Rafa because of our great epic match in the finals here a few years ago," he said before Nadal had stepped on court against Berdych. "I'd like to get a chance to play him again here."
His wish came true, but only just as Nadal flirted with a two-set deficit against an inspired Berdych.
A set down and facing set point in the second set tiebreak, Nadal was given a let-off when a lunging Berdych volleyed into the tramlines and he dug himself out of trouble to overhaul the tall Czech in a taxing four-hour tussle under the lights.
Nadal said his matches against Federer would always be significant, even though neither of them are number one.
"The rankings are important but we are talking about a player who won 16 grand slams and I have won 10," he said.
"All the matches against him are special, even if we are (number) 20 against 25."
The pair's only previous meeting in the last four of a major was at the French Open in 2005 when Nadal won before going on to claim his first grand slam title.
Four-times grand slam winner Clijsters has said this will be her last season on Tour and few rivals will be shedding any tears after her dismantling of Wozniacki suggested she could dominate women's tennis for years to come.
Crowd favourite Clijsters ended the Dane's hopes of winning a first grand slam with a 6-3 7-6 triumph as temperatures pushed up to 35 centigrade at Melbourne Park.
The 28-year-old Belgian bounced around the court with abandon, and if the ankle she turned painfully over against Li Na in the last round was bothering her it did not show.
After a one-sided first set, Wozniacki looked down and out at 5-2 in the second but drew on all of her reserves to fight back and take it to a tiebreak.
The comeback only served to delay the inevitable, however, as the Belgian took the decider 7-4, sealing victory on her first match point with a forehand volley.
"It definitely didn't feel like being up a set and 5-2," Clijsters said in a courtside interview.
"I was happy to get through and not go to a three-setter because it's so hot."
While Azarenka has a reputation for getting hot under the collar, the Belarussian showed her composed side against Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska in their quarter-final.
Despite going a set down, Azarenka raised her game to pole-axe Radwanska in the second set and grind out the third for a 6-7 6-0 6-2 win.
"I think I am a different player right now, especially mentally-wise," Azarenka said. "Today I really tried to forget about the first set and start from zero and really fight hard.
"I think that's the toughest thing out there. Especially when the weather is tough. Your mind is boiling and it's difficult to think."
(Editing by Martyn Herman)
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