Top seed Rafa Nadal held off a resurgent Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland on Saturday to earn a 6-4, 7-5 win and book his place in the final of the Melbourne Summer Set 1 ATP 250 event, where he will take on American qualifier Maxime Cressy.
The Spaniard, playing his first competitive tournament since August, was given a stern examination by the dogged Ruusuvuori before coming out unscathed in just under two hours at the Rod Laver Arena.
Both players were solid on serve in the opening exchanges before Nadal’s superior quality shone through as he secured a crucial break in the ninth game, eventually closing out the set with ease.
Ruusuvuori never allowed Nadal to settle in the second set, matching him from the baseline with a string of searing winners.
The world number 95 broke back at 3-5 but was left to rue a number of break point opportunities as Nadal did enough to secure the win.
“It’s an important comeback. Starting another season here in Australia, it means a lot,” said Nadal. “Of course, I need to do things better on court … but it’s step-by-step.”
Asked how his body was coping, the 20-times major winner added: “Good. Let’s see tomorrow … the body is holding well. I need these matches to improve. It’s about being patient and trying my best every single time.”
Former world number three Grigor Dimitrov was handed a 7-5, 7-6(9) defeat by the big-serving Cressy, who fired 17 aces past the Bulgarian and won when he converted his fourth match point to advance to the final.
“I’m very pleased with my tennis,” said Cressy. “Nothing happens by luck. I’m very proud of myself for staying focused the whole tournament so far. I played incredible today…”
Unseeded Cressy dominated the opening set but was drawn into a battle in the second set by his more experienced opponent.
Dimitrov’s tenacity denied Cressy on match point three times before he eventually succumbed, handing the American an 11-9 win in the tiebreak when he steered his shot wide.