The band is back together, but only by the skin of Rafael Nadal's bared teeth. It took the dauntless Spaniard five hours and five sets to shake off doughty Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in a memorable semi-final at Rod Laver arena, not finishing until almost 1am. The scoreline read 6-3 5-7 7-6 6-7 6-4.
Dimitrov is in the vanguard of the next generation – that was the lesser moral of the night – but he is going to have to wait still. He was a point away from serving for this match, and an eternity.
So Nadal will play Federer for the ninth time in a major final, but the first for nearly six years. Both were cruelled by injury last year, and separately have told of how when Federer attended the opening of Nadal's academy in Majorca in June, they had shaped to a play few points, but could manage only to dink balls to the agog kids. The idea of a rematch anywhere, let alone in a major final, was laughable then.
"Is special play with Roger again in a final of a Grand Slam," Nadal said. "I cannot lie. Is great.
"Last year was tough. When you feel that you are playing very well and you have to go from Roland Garros without going on court ... I remember myself crying on the car coming back to hotel, no? That was a tough moment."
So it is Federer v Nadal in the men's final, Williams v Williams in the women's. Do not adjust your watches; it is not the mid-noughties again. But for the first time in the Open era, all four finalists are 30 or more. Nadal, at 30, is the youngest by five years. Put another way, it is second seed versus 13th in the women's, ninth seed versus 17th in the men's. But seeds are like years, merely integers. Their tennis is like music; it never dies.
Dimitrov was cast as was Stan Wawrinka the previous evening; he was the designated party-pooper. If asked for papers, though, this gatecrasher could have produced. A top tenner in 2014 who declined to 40 last year, he had burst into this season with 10 straight wins, a personal best. All his career, he has been trying to outrun the nickname "baby Fed", which neither he nor Federer much liked. Fed II, the heir apparent, would sit better after this night. The always gracious Nadal would grant him that much.
The terms were set immediately, and predictably. The mutually agreed battleground was the baselines, the chosen weapons heavy hitting rather than light feet, as in the previous night's semi. This would be as close to hand to hand combat as tennis gets, an arm's length arm wrestle. Initially, the net was what their accountants said they were worth.
To begin, Nadal served impeccably and otherwise concentrated intently on his own forehand while maneuvering to avoid Dimitrov's. He was good enough to do it. Once only in the first set did Dimitrov approach the net, whereupon Nadal promptly passed him for the break that would become the set. After the first two points, he did not make an authenticated unforced error in that set. Dimitrov did little wrong, but Nadal did nothing.
Unsurprisingly, Nadal came slight off his high, meantime incurring a warning for slow play, for him an occupational hazard. Dimitrov lifted, varied and attacked, and the shape of the contest changed. In a match played within such a fine tolerance, it didn't take much. Breaks of serve came apace, each yielding with one with a double fault. Three in a row should have been four and delivered Dimitrov the set, but Nadal somehow staved off four set points. But a fifth, in his next service game, Dimitrov at last exploited.
Staying in his lair was no longer an option for Dimitrov. He and Nadal now chased each other around the court, loosening in their strokeplay and tightening in their minds, to a third-set tie-breaker, which Nadal, drawing on all he knew, won. A medical emergency prolonged this set to 70 minutes. For clarity's sake, it was in the stands, not on the court.
Again in the fourth set, they thumped balls into every corner and out of them, this time all service games staying intact. This appeared to suit Nadal, who altogether would rather be hitting another ball. But in the tie-breaker, Dimitrov held his nerve and his serve.
The climactic set began with the longest game of the match, and included the first clean return winner of the match. That was the level. For stretches, the tennis moved to another plane, almost paranormal. Nadal had more openings, but Dimitrov had the best, when he held two points to break Nadal and serve the match out. Not so fast, not so fast. Nadal won the next six points, and although much scrambling was still to come, Nadal would not be denied.
The crowd could barely watch as chances came and went, but Nadal was very nearly philosophical. "I say to myself, I am giving my best, I am playing very well," he said. "If I lose, that's it. Grigor deserves, too. I think both of us deserve to be in that final."
You might imagine that Federer's 24-hour head-start becomes a factor now, also that his semi occupied just three hours to Nadal's five, but there is a sound body of evidence to say it doesn't matter.
Nadal's one win at the Australian Open, in 2009, followed a five-set post-midnight semi. Now he stands to become the first man in the Open era to win at least two of every major. For reference's sake, he leads Federer 23-11 in head-to-heads, but because of their combined misadventures, they have played only once in the last three years. Federer won then
Already, this has been a remarkable edition of the Australian Open, in quality and drama and for its revivalist theme. Among internationals, the fear is that the season has peaked too soon; the other majors can only be postscripts. For once we can happily say, that is none of our business.