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Roger Federer’s classy message to Rafael Nadal as 21st Grand Slam title nears

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ROGER FEDERER could soon be overtaken by Rafael Nadal when it comes to Grand Slam triumphs.

Rafael Nadal is just two victories at the Australian Open away from winning a record 21st Grand Slam. The Spaniard faces Matteo Berrettini on Friday morning looking to make the final Down Under. And, if he ends up winning the competition, he’ll move in front of Roger Federer when it comes to tennis’ biggest tournaments.

Nadal has been in fine form at the Australian Open this year, despite a foot injury previously casting doubt on whether he’d participate.

He was too strong for American Marcos Giron in the first round, cruising to a 6-1, 6-4, 6-2 victory.

Nadal then blew Yannick Hanfmann out of the water in round two before beating Karen Khachanov in round three.

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And, since then, the Spaniard has powered past Adrian Mannarino and Denis Shapovalov to make the semi-finals.

Nadal last won the Australian Open in 2009, beating Federer in the final and resorting the Swiss star to tears in the process.

Now, he’s just two victories away from eclipsing his rival’s Grand Slam haul.

Federer can be forgiven for feeling fearful or bitter that his tally is about to be overtaken.

Yet his classy message to Nadal after the 35-year-old matched him on 20 majors in 2020, with victory in the French Open, suggests that isn’t the case.

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“I have always had the utmost respect for my friend Rafa as a person and as a champion,” he said on Twitter in October.

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“As my greatest rival over many years I believe we have pushed each other to become better players.

“Therefore it is a true honour for me to congratulate him on his 20th Grand Slam victory.

“It is especially amazing that he has now won Roland Garros an incredible 13 times, which is one of the greatest achievements in sport.

“I also congratulate his team, because nobody can do this alone.

“I hope 20 is just another step on the continuing journey for both of us. Well done, Rafa. You deserve it.”

Nadal, at the time, admitted he was hellbent on retiring as the player with the most Grand Slams.

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“I never hide that for me, I always say the same, that I would love to finish my career being the player with more Grand Slams,” he said.

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“No doubt about that, no? But in the other hand I say, okay, I have to do my way.

“I’m not going to be thinking all the time Novak have this one, Roger is winning the other one.

“You can’t be always unhappy because your neighbour has a bigger house than you or a bigger boat or have a better phone.

“You have to live your personal life, no? Personally that’s the things that I did during all my career, just try to follow my road, try my best every single day. In terms of these records, of course that I care.

“I am a big fan of the history of sport in general. I respect that.

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“For me means a lot to share this number with Roger, no? But let’s see what’s going on when we finish our careers.”

John McEnroe, meanwhile, labelled Nadal a ‘master’ after his hard-fought win over Shapovalov earlier in the week.

“Shapovalov has got to understand he’s got to take it up another level mentally if he’s to get over the hump,” he said.