MADRID — Rafael Nadal will aim to keep his unbeaten start to the clay season going when he meets Novak Djokovic for a 50th time in the Madrid Masters semifinals Saturday.
Nadal is now 13-0 on clay this year as he swept aside Belgian ninth seed David Goffin 7-6 (7-3), 6-2 much to the delight a boisterous home crowd under the roof on the Manolo Santana center court.
Djokovic had an even easier day as he moved into the last four without hitting a ball Friday as Kei Nishikori withdrew with a wrist injury.
The Serb has a marginal 26-23 head-to-head record against Nadal.
However, the two haven’t met for nearly a year during which time Djokovic’s form has dramatically dipped.
“It’s going to be a very tough match against one of the best players in the history of the sport,” insisted Nadal.
“I’ve been playing at a high level for many weeks, but I know tomorrow is a day when either I’ll have to play really well or I’m not going to have many chances.”
Nadal eased past Goffin 6-3, 6-1 in their only previous meeting on his way to winning the Monte Carlo Masters last month before also lifting a 10th Barcelona Open.
And only poor returning on his break point opportunities denied Nadal just as convincing a scoreline as the Spaniard took only two of his 14 chances.
The 14-time Grand Slam champion had break points in the fourth and sixth game of the first set, but had to settle for breaking Goffin’s resolve in a tie-break.
Nadal finally broke in the third game of the second set before having to stave off four break points on his own serve to consolidate his lead at 3-1.
The level of play from both players rose in a remarkable game with Goffin serving at 2-4 down as he kept Nadal at bay despite facing four break points, including one incredible cross-court backhand as he ran back to the baseline after being lobbed.
Nadal wasn’t to be denied, though, as he broke once more and served out to seal victory after exactly two hours on court.
On the other side of the draw Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas advanced to his first ever Masters series semifinal by outlasting German wonder kid Alexander Zverev 3-6, 6-0, 6-4.
The Uruguayan will face Dominic Thiem or Andy Murray’s conqueror Borna Coric in the semifinals.
In the women’s section, defending champion Simona Halep cruised back into the final for the third time in four years with a 6-2, 6-3 success over Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova.
“I heard that I am the first player who does three finals here this tournament,” said Halep.
“I feel like (at) home here.
“The crowd is supporting me all the time. The courts fit me. I feel that the altitude is helping me also.”
Halep also thrashed the world No. 22 two weeks ago in Stuttgart and there was never any danger of an upset as the Romanian reeled off five straight games to close out the opening set.
Sevastova hinted at a fightback early in the second as she got out to a 3-0 lead.
But Halep, who also lost in the semifinals of the women’s doubles with compatriot Irina-Camelia Begu Friday, showed no signs of lacking in energy as she bounced back in emphatic fashion to win the last six games for the loss of just 14 points.
Halep will face in-form Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic or Svetlana Kuznetsova in Saturday’s final.
Monfils, Tsonga and Gasquet miss Rome Masters
French trio Gaël Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet will all miss the clay court Rome Masters tournament, organisers revealed Friday two days ahead of the prestige event.
Monfils, ranked 16 in the world, twisted his ankle during the Madrid Masters after being previously sidelined for over a month with an Achilles tendon injury picked up at Indian Wells.
Tsonga, ranked 11, has a sore shoulder and world number 24 Gasquet also missed out on the Madrid tournament because of a bad back.
The news is worrying for French fans ahead of the French Open at Roland-Garros, also on clay, from May 28 to June 11. — Agencies