Melbourne: There was no title at stake and no trophy to lift but Rafa Nadal's victory over Roger Federer in the Australian Open semi-finals on Thursday added another glorious chapter to the greatest rivalry in tennis.   

While never quite reaching the epic highs of the classic 2009 final at Melbourne Park that reduced Federer to tears, Nadal's brilliant 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, 6-4 win after three hours, 42 minutes was the perfect end to Australia Day at Rod Laver Arena.   

Notorious grunters Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka had earlier roared into the women's final by knocking out Petra Kvitova and Kim Clijsters.   

Novak Djokovic, whose rise to world number one has pushed  Federer and Nadal closer together after years at opposite ends of the draw, faces Andy Murray in the second semi-final on Friday.   

Meetings between the pair have normally been reserved for title matches, but neither Federer nor Nadal gave an inch in what was just their second grand slam semi-final encounter.   

Their 27th clash captivated fans from the first serve as Federer's flair and finesse was put to the test against the brute force of Nadal.   

The 25-year-old Spaniard, who has made an art form of breathing new life into points that looked dead and buried, now holds an 18-9 record against arguably the greatest player of all time.   

Riveting Tiebreak   

Federer took the first set in a riveting tiebreak, but the Swiss struggled to prevent uncharacteristic errors creeping in on his serve and trusty backhand.   

A delay as the Melbourne night sky was lit up by a dazzling display of fireworks seemed to disrupt Federer's rhythm and Nadal pounced, eating up the 30-year-old's suddenly suspect serve to get back on level terms.   

Nadal rode that momentum through a tight third set and captured the decisive break at 4-4 in the fourth, closing it out on the second match point when Federer blasted a forehand long.   

The Spaniard basked in the crowd's acclaim and sank to his knees at centre court, leaning back with his arms aloft in triumph as if he had just won the title.   

"It didn't feel like that," he said of his emotional celebration. "That was a very important match for me," added Nadal, who was asked why he saved his best tennis for Federer.   

"It's true that I played a lot of good matches against him during my career. But I believe that he played a few fantastic matches against me too during our rivalry.   

"I don't play my best tennis because Roger is in front of me. I play my best tennis because I am ready to play my best tennis."   

Federer had been bidding to match Roy Emerson's record of five Australian Open championships but he was not too disheartened.   

"It's not that bad. Don't feel too sorry for me," he said.   

"Obviously I would have loved to have come through and gotten a crack, a chance at winning the title here again."   

No Mental Case   

Azarenka and Sharapova advanced to the women's final, with the winner set to claim the world number one ranking following  Dane Caroline Wozniacki's defeat by big-hitting Belgian Clijsters in the quarter-finals.   

World number three Azarenka earned her first grand slam final place with a 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 victory over defending champion Clijsters and the volatile Belarusian promised the days of temper tantrums were behind her.   

"I think before you all thought that I was a mental case," the 22-year-old told the crowd in a court-side interview after her win. "I was just young and emotional."   

Azarenka will be the first player from Belarus to contest a grand slam final since 1988 when Natasha Zvereva lost 6-0, 6-0 to Steffi Graf at the French Open.   

There was be no storybook finish for Clijsters, affectionately known as "Aussie Kim", though she certainly did not feel she had anything left to prove.   

"I know I'm capable of beating all these girls, but it's whoever is better on the day wins and gets to go through," the 28-year-old added.   

Fourth seed Sharapova did go through but had to overcome a second set rally by Kvitova to advance to her third Australian Open final with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 victory.   

The victory was sweet revenge for Sharapova who lost to the Czech in last year's Wimbledon final.   

"I love this sport and sometimes even if you're not playing your best tennis, you can find a way to win," she said.