SHANGHAI – Second seed Rafael Nadal survived an epic first set tiebreaker on the way to a 7-6 (12-10), 6-1 victory over eighth seed Stanislas Wawrinka on Friday night to advance to the semifinals of the Shanghai Rolex Masters.
Nadal, who reclaimed the No. 1 ranking from Novak Djokovic earlier this week, had to summon all his skills to overcome the Swiss, who has been steadily improving throughout the year.
Wawrinka, the eighth seed, served well and played strong from the baseline, but against 13-time Grand Slam champion Nadal it was not enough.
Nadal employed his patented topspin game and ripped forehand winners throughout the match. But it was his grit that proved decisive in this battle.
The win kept Nadal on course to meet rival and top seed Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final. Nadal lost to Djokovic in the final of last week’s China Open in Beijing.
Djokovic, who rallied to beat unseeded Gael Monfils 6-7 (4-7), 6-2, 6-4 in the quarterfinals earlier Friday, was set to take on seventh seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France in the first semifinal on Saturday.
Nadal will face sixth seed Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, who bested Spain’s Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 6-3 in their quarterfinal, in the second semifinal.
With a 6-5 lead in the first set, Wawrinka earned a set point but could not take advantage of it as Nadal battled through three deuces and finally held serve to force a tiebreaker.
Wawrinka had two more set points in the tiebreaker, but the pressure appeared to get to him, and he squandered both.
Nadal brought the set to an end at 12-10 on his fourth set point after 1 hour, 13 minutes. The tiebreaker alone lasted more than 20 minutes.
“The first set was a very hard one. I think I played a great set,” said Nadal. “But the court is fast. His serve was huge. He came to the court with determination to hit every ball by taking them early, hitting it quick, going for the big shots in every moment.”
Sensing that his opponent was demoralized after dropping the first set, Nadal moved in for the kill.
The Spaniard held serve in the first game of the second set, then broke Wawrinka to take a 2-0 lead.
Nadal quickly held and broke again and the contest was all but over.
“I was able to maintain that level (from the first set) and get the break in the first game of the second set,” stated Nadal. “I’m very happy to be in the semifinals of this tournament. This is great news for me. This is a very important tournament that has always been tough for me.”
Wawrinka was unable to break Nadal in the match and also had 23 unforced errors to Nadal’s 12.
Nadal has now beaten Wawrinka in all 11 of their career meetings while not dropping a single set.
Djokovic dropped his first two service games against Monfils, but came back to prevail in a struggle that lasted 2 hours, 22 minutes.
“Today was a very physical match and very intense,” noted Djokovic. “We played many rallies. I knew coming into the match that he is going to run for every ball and he is going to make me play an extra shot.”
Meanwhile, with Friday’s quarterfinal win over Germany’s Florian Mayer, Tsonga has now moved within 135 points of Roger Federer for the eighth spot in the ATP World Tour Finals next month in London.
Federer, who lost to Monfils in the third round on Thursday, could miss out on a place at the prestigious event depending on what at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris, starting later this month.
Olympic renewal: A reliable source has informed The Japan Times that the Ariake tennis complex will be completely refurbished ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
The source said a second covered arena will be constructed to help stage the competition at the 2020 Games.