Shanghai: Rafael Nadal will play Marin Cilic in the semi-finals of the Shanghai Masters on Saturday after the world No. 1 was forced to fight past Grigor Dimitrov 6-4, 6-7, 6-3.
The Spaniard, who has never won the Shanghai showpiece, is chasing a seventh title in a brilliant season and a hat-trick of triumphs on the trot, having been crowned US Open and China Open champion in recent weeks.
The 16-time Grand Slam winner saw off the Bulgarian Dimitrov in Beijing last week but suffered some hairy moments in getting the better of him again in a nervy quarter-final played in overcast conditions.
“Very happy, it was a very tough match, both of us played a very high level of tennis,” said 31-year-old Nadal, the top seed.
“I enjoyed it, a great battle between two players that are playing all the time very focused and intense points all the time.
“A lot of matches in a row winning and very happy with everything, let’s see what happens tomorrow, but being able to win in Beijing and now semi-finals here ... tough events against tough players.
“Just focus on holding that momentum.”
Nadal edged in front when he got the break of serve in the ninth game of the first set and there was nothing between them as they entered a tense second-set tie break.
Nadal got the mini-break for a 3-0 lead in the tie break, but sixth seed Dimitrov scrapped back to level, and then stunned the Spaniard to clinch the tie break.
The two friends headed into a deciding set with Dimitrov in the ascendancy and the pro-Nadal crowd fearing an upset.
Dimitrov sensed another opportunity in the fifth game of the third set, but Nadal survived the break point.
Nadal took the momentum into the next game to immediately break Dimitrov and finally end the Bulgarian’s resolve.
The Spaniard’s victory march was only momentarily held up when a disturbance broke out in the crowd and the players were forced to wait as a small group of spectators was escorted out of the arena.
A relieved Nadal looked up to the heavens and raised his arms at the end.
The Croatian fourth seed Cilic — who has defeated Nadal only once in five matches — beat the unseeded Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-3, 6-4.
Cilic, bidding to reach the season-ending ATP Finals in London, said his improved consistency was key.
“My team has worked really well in all parts of my game just to bring it up to the nice level that I can keep it up throughout every single week,” he said.
“I got to understand also all the things that we were working on.
“They are quite clear for me and I also am a little bit more consistent this year in serving performances.
“I’m winning quite a lot of service games and a lot of matches.”
Roger Federer will play Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro in the other semi-final. The Swiss beat France’s Richard Gasquet 7-5, 6-4 and Del Potro prevailed 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 over Serbia’s Viktor Troicki.
Daria Gavrilova reached the semi-finals of the WTA Hong Kong Open for the second year in succession after a second-set meltdown and an error-strewn win against teenager Lizette Cabrera on Friday.
The Australian world No. 22 eventually came through 6-1, 3-6, 6-4, but only after an almighty struggle with her serve, a string of unforced errors and her own state of mind.
There was no sign of the drama to come when the 23-year-old Russian-born Aussie nicknamed Dasha raced through the first set 6-1 against her fellow Australian ranked 155.
But the seventh seed grew increasingly frustrated in a second set where she committed 20 unforced errors and started to get down on herself.
She took out her frustration on everyone including the crowd, her father and coach Alexei Gavrilov at courtside and the line judges as she unleashed a verbal tirade.
And when, on losing the set, she threw her racket at her chair in disgust it brought a chorus of boos from the normally respectful centre court crowd in Victoria Park.
The third set was a dour, attritional stop-start affair, littered with double faults, challenged line calls and long games taken to deuce as neither player could gain any semblance of control.
In the end Gavrilova sneaked over the line despite serving 16 double faults and having her serve broken five times in a petulant performance.
“I have more experience than Liz and I think that helped today,” admitted Gavrilova.
Her opponent on Saturday will be Jennifer Brady who reached a WTA semi-final for the first time in her career with a 7-5, 6-4 win over fellow American Nicole Gibbs.
“It will be a tough match. I hope I can serve better than I did today,” said Gavrilova.
Gibbs, the world No. 114, had beaten Brady in both their previous meetings on tour and was serving for the first set at 5-4 when her opponent enjoyed an outrageous piece of luck.
Brady slapped a return into the top of the net but it somehow popped over from the net cord to give the world No. 70 three break-back points.
Brady levelled at 5-5 on the second of them to start a run of five unanswered games as her big serve and forehand took control and she powered into a 7-5, 2-0 lead.
Gibbs did manage to break back. But her underpowered serve let her down again at 4-4 and Brady calmly served out to take her place in the last four.
Maria Sharapova equalled her best performance since returning from a doping suspension when she reached the Tianjin Open semi-finals on Friday.
The Russian easily defeated Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele 6-3, 6-1 in 64 minutes. The former world No. 1 will face either China’s Peng Shuai or Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo in the last four.
Sharapova returned from a 15-month suspension in April for taking the banned substance meldonium.
In her first tournament back, in Stuttgart, she made it to the semi-finals but has been unable to repeat that feat again, until now.
The 30-year-old, ranked 86 in the world, was granted a wild card for Tianjin because her ranking was too low.
Men’s Singles Quarter-finals
16-Juan Martin Del Potro (Argentina) beat Viktor Troicki (Serbia) 4-6, 6-1, 6-4
1-Rafa Nadal (Spain) beat 6-Grigor Dimitrov (Bulgaria) 6-4, 6-7, 6-3
4-Marin Cilic (Croatia) beat Albert Ramos (Spain) 6-3, 6-4
2-Roger Federer (Switzerland) beat Richard Gasquet (France) 7-5, 6-4
Women’s Singles Quarter-finals
3-Peng Shuai (China) beat Sara Sorribes Tormo (Spain) 6-0, 6-1
Maria Sharapova (Russia) beat Stefanie Voegele (Switzerland) 6-3, 6-1
Aryna Sabalenka (Belarus) beat Zhu Lin (China) 6-3, 6-4
Sara Errani (Italy) beat Christina McHale (US) 5-7, 7-6, 6-1
Hong Kong Open
Women’s Singles Quarter-finals
7-Daria Gavrilova (Australia) beat Lizette Cabrera (Australia) 6-1, 3-6, 6-4
Jennifer Brady (US) beat Nicole Gibbs (US) 7-5 6-4
Wang Qiang (China) beat Samantha Stosur (Australia) 7-5, 6-2, 7-6
6-Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Russia) beat Naomi Osaka (Japan) 6-3, 6-3