PARIS: Defending champion Rafa Nadal survived David Ferrer’s early fury to reach the French Open semi-finals with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-1 win in a repeat of last year’s all-Spanish final yesterday.
World number one Nadal, chasing a record-extending ninth Roland Garros title, had no answer to the fifth seed’s pace on court Suzanne Lenglen in the first set.
But Ferrer, one of three men who have beaten the claycourt machine on his favourite surface this year, ran out of steam in the second before Nadal devoured him in the third.
Nadal won 10 games in a row - and 13 of the last 14 - to wrap up victory on his first match point, setting up a meeting with Wimbledon champion Andy Murray who beat local favourite Gael Monfils 6-4, 6-1, 4-6, 1-6, 6-0 in the last eight.
“David on clay? He is one of the best players of the world. He gets better and better. I’m sorry for him today,” Nadal reporters.
“In the first set I made too many mistakes with my backhand,” he said.
Ferrer was on fire in the opening set, piercing Nadal’s concrete defence with his devastating forehand.
Nadal, who has a 64-1 record on the Paris clay, realised in the opening set he was in for a dogfight.
At the end of a 31-shot rally, he unleashed one of his trademark forehands down the line and paused for a fraction of second as if certain it had done the job. But Ferrer retrieved the shot with a chopped forehand that landed in the open court, out of Nadal’s reach.
Ferrer, as quick between his serves as Nadal is slow, took the set on his opponent’s serve with a forehand winner into the corner.
Then, however, things started to click for the King of clay.
Nadal broke for 2-1 with a stunning backhand down the line. Ferrer had three chances to break back in the sixth game but could not convert them.
From then on, Nadal rolled on towards his 22nd win over Ferrer in 28 meetings.
He carries into tomorrow’s semi-final clash a 14-5 record against Murray, whom he has beaten five times out of five on clay for the loss of two sets
Murray ended home hopes by beating Monfils in front of a roaring crowd to reach his first French Open semi-final since 2011.
The last Frenchman standing in Paris sent the decibel levels soaring when he stole back the third and fourth sets but Wimbledon champion Murray was in a hurry to take the fifth and ensure the match did not go into today due to the fading light.
Showing few sign of the back injury that kept him out of last year’s tournament, the seventh seed controlled play from the baseline in the first set, although the 23rd seed gave home fans hope with some returns from improbable angles.
The Scot stormed to a 5-1 lead in the second, but took eight set points to close it out after the game was halted when a ball dropped out of Murray’s pocket during play, sending both players to lobby the umpire before Murray conceded the point.
Meanwhile, ‘Twisted soul’ Andrea Petkovic joyously planted a kiss on her racket frame after she battled through drizzle and swirling winds yesterday to set up an unlikely French Open semi-final showdown with Romanian Simona Halep.
The 28th seeded German came close to turning her back on tennis a year ago after being hobbled by back, ankle and knee injuries but 12 months on she was getting up close and personal with her racket after blowing Italy’s Sara Errani off court with a 6-2, 6-2 win.
A match featuring 10 breaks and 32 unforced errors was never going to be pretty and a three-hour rain delay left Roland Garros feeling more like a winter wonderland as temperatures dipped to a chilly 10 degrees Celsius.
But Petkovic won the points that mattered.
A match that started with spectators huddled under blankets on Philippe Chatrier Court ended with Petkovic beaming in delight as Errani slapped a backhand wide.
After becoming the first German woman to reach the last four in Paris since Steffi Graf in 1999, a player who is influenced by the writings of a number of philosophers said she would now “like to call Freud and ask him what he thinks about... my twisted soul.”
Such a thought is unlikely to trouble Halep, who will be more interested in concentrating on Petkovic’s tennis skills after she too reached her first major semi-final with an equally scrappy 6-2, 6-2 win over 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.