Rafael Nadal attempted to pick Stefanos Tsitsipas’ chin off the floor after ending the run of the exciting young Greek in brutal fashion to reach his 25th grand slam final.
Tsitsipas was looking to become only the third man after Juan Martin Del Potro and Novak Djokovic to beat both Roger Federer and Nadal at the same slam but was firmly put in his place as the Spaniard swept to a 6-2 6-4 6-0 victory in just an hour and 46 minutes.
Nadal, who is yet to drop a set in Melbourne, will take on either Djokovic or Frenchman Lucas Pouille in the title decider on Sunday.
Tsitsipas went into the match full of confidence from his breakthrough fortnight and with the knowledge that he competed well against Nadal in their last meeting in Toronto last summer.
But this was a very different story, and Tsitsipas looked shell-shocked in his post-match press conference, saying: “Honestly, I have no idea what I can take from that match.
“It felt like a different dimension of tennis completely. He has this talent that no other player has. He makes you play bad. That’s definitely not the way I wanted to leave from the tournament.
“I did play a good match in Toronto against him. I had my hopes high for the next time. I remember saying to myself, ‘I’m going to beat this guy next time’. That’s why I’m so disappointed today, because I wasn’t even close.”
After the high of his fourth-round victory over Federer, which saw the 20-year-old hailed as the next big star of men’s tennis, this was a crushing return to earth.
“I’m just trying to think how Federer beat him,” he added. “Similar game style like me. I don’t want to lose to Rafa 10 times. I’m going to try to work hard, aim high, hope one day maybe I can get a win against him.”
Once he was able to gather himself, the youngster also posted a classy tweet to his victorious opponent.
That respect is just one of the reason he has won so many new fans in Melbourne this year.
Nadal broke the Tsitsipas serve in the third game and did not look back, dropping only 12 points on serve in the match and finishing with a tally of 28 winners and 14 unforced errors.
He insisted Tsitsipas should not be despondent, saying: “That’s part of the game. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. He’s young. I lost enough times to know that. Everybody needs to live this experience.
“Of course, when you lose it’s normal that you are down. Tonight I played so well. He played a great event. First semi-finals for him. He’s young. He has everything to become a great champion.”
Nadal, who dispatched Tsitsipas’ fellow young guns Alex De Minaur and Frances Tiafoe in earlier rounds, usually reserves this type of bulldozing performance through a draw for the French Open but he has barely put a foot wrong since arriving in Melbourne.
That he came here without having played a competitive match since the US Open last September makes his performances all the more remarkable.
The latest in a series of physical issues was a minor thigh strain that forced him out of the warm-up tournament in Brisbane, and he said: “It’s normal you have doubts about me, because I have doubts about me.
“I was a little bit worried, of course, because it had been issue after issue. But I was practicing great. One of the reasons that I wanted to play (in Brisbane) was because I felt myself playing so well there. I was worried about having another issue. But, in terms of tennis, I knew I was playing well.
“Then, of course, you have to compete. After four, five months without action at all, then of course you know that you can come here and anything can happen. But the feelings have been positive since during December and the beginning of the season. I felt I was doing a lot of things well.”
Nadal will now look to win his second title at Melbourne Park 10 years after his first. The 32-year-old has made the final three more times but lost once each to Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and, in an epic battle two years ago, Federer.
If he wins on Sunday, he will achieve something neither Federer nor Djokovic have managed by winning each slam title at least twice.