Rafael Nadal gets past Milos Raonic in straight sets to advance to the semifinals of the Australian Open. (0:43)
MELBOURNE, Australia — Fairy tales, at least across the past calendar year in sports, have come true with an almost numbing regularity.
The NBA’s Cavaliers ended Cleveland’s 52-year drought without a champion and the Cubs finally overcame 108 years of World Series futility.
In college basketball and football, national champions Villanova and Clemson upset favorites in the final game in the last second.
The most unlikely cliched Cinderella of them all, the Leicester City Foxes, were a 5,000-to-1 shot to win the Premier League, which, of course, they did.
Even here Down Under reality was suspended as the unheralded Hurricanes, Western Bulldogs and Cronulla Sharks won Super Rugby, Australian Rules Football and National Rugby League winter titles.
Through the long lens of history, no one would consider Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal underdogs, but in recent years they have scuffled by their magnificent standards. After winning a collective 31 Grand Slams, together they have gone 0-for-27 in majors, going back to Federer’s win at Wimbledon in 2012 and Nadal’s 2014 French Open triumph.
Heading into Wednesday night’s Australian Open quarterfinal, a tantalizing 34th meeting between the two greatest male players of their generation was still a possibility.
The largest obstacle to this dream finals matchup — literally, for he stands 6-foot-5 — was Milos Raonic. The Canadian ace machine, the No. 3 seed, became the de facto favorite when No. 1 seed Andy Murray and No. 2 Novak Djokovic unexpectedly exited the tournament. And then No. 3 left the building.
Ah, sorry, Mr. Raonic. Thanks for playing our game.
Using all the grizzled guile you would expect, Nadal diffused that Down Under thunder and won a taut match 6-4, 7-6 (7), 6-4.
The telling statistic: The 26-year-old Raonic failed to convert six set points in the second frame.
“Quite honestly,” said ESPN analyst John McEnroe, “I’ll be surprised if they don’t play in the final.”
In keeping with the old-school vibe at this Australian Open, this is the first time since the 1968 French Open — the first major of the Open era — that three of the four finalists have been 30 years or older.
In his on-court interview, Nadal was asked by Jim Courier if he harbored doubts the past several years.
“I think I am not a very arrogant person, so I always have doubts,” he said. “Is normal, even when I was winning. That’s good. When you have doubts you are ready to work more.
“I think I had a great career, but I also had a lot of tough moments that make me enjoy even more the good moments I’m having here.”
Count freshly minted Hall of Famer Andy Roddick as one of those who ached for a Federer-Nadal blockbuster. He’s actually done the math.
“If you think about the historical significance of what that match would look like,” Roddick said Tuesday when his enshrinement was announced. “[Nadal] at 14 Slams, [Federer] at 17 Slams, Rafa wins, it’s 15-17, and the French Open is around the corner, it’s back on. It’s literally game on for the most Slams ever.
“If Roger wins, it’s 18-14. I don’t know that that divide gets made up. If that happens, it has to be the most important match in Australian Open history and possibly Grand Slam history.”
Well, is that all?
This was Rafa’s first win against a top-three player outside the French Open in more than three years, and his string of classic performances here mirrors Federer’s.
Before the match, Roddick broke the match down for ESPN.com. Not surprisingly, the man who stroked 9,068 aces, fourth all time, was leaning toward the big server.
“Everyone’s looking forward [to a Rafa-Federer final], but Milos acts like he knows he’s going to win a Slam someday.
“Rafa knows what he has to do; he has to be aggressive,” Roddick said. “If he plays passively in his own service games, then Milos is going to get a look at the basket.”
Nadal served 16 times and won every game. He broke Raonic only twice, but it was enough.
At this Australian Open, there is clearly a powerful magic hanging in the air. Frogs have been kissed into princes. Good has inevitably triumphed over evil. Pigs, fantastically, have flown.
Is it realistic — or even reasonable — to hope it might happen again?