NEW YORK — After one early miss, Rafael Nadal slapped himself on the right thigh. After another, he put his hands on his hips and stared at the spot where his shot had gone awry.
It did not take long for Nadal to put a slightly slow start behind him and move one step closer to the only Grand Slam title he hasn't won.
Nadal, the top seed, figured out how to handle the wind that has plagued the tournament this week, got his serve in gear after being broken for the only time in five matches and beat eighth seed Fernando Verdasco 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 Thursday night in the first all-Spanish quarterfinal in U.S. Open history.
"Right now, for me, it's a very, very nice feeling to be in (the) semifinals for the third time in a row for one of the most important tournaments in the world," Nadal said. "For me, probably right now, the most important."
Nadal never has reached a final in New York, losing in the semis to Andy Murray in 2008 and to eventual champion Juan Martin del Potro last year.
Saturday, Nadal — trying to complete a career Grand Slam at age 24 — faces 12th seed Mikhail Youzhny, who beat No. 25 Stanislas Wawrinka 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. No. 2 Roger Federer faces No. 3 Novak Djokovic in the other semifinal.
As was the case for many matches in recent days, the wind was swirling inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. It regularly topped 15 mph, with gusts reaching 25 mph, and the temperature, consistently in the 90s in Week 1, dipped to 65 degrees. "Very difficult to play. Probably one of the more difficult days," Nadal said.
Neither player seemed pleased by the conditions, and Verdasco looked up at his guest box in the second game after hitting one of his six double-faults. In the next game, however, he played some terrific sliding, stretching defense during a 20-stroke exchange he capped with a backhand passing winner to earn a break point.
He converted that but never got another chance to really rattle Nadal, who has won all 15 sets he has played at this U.S. Open and won 76 of 77 games he has served. He lost his first service game in Thursday's third game.
Youzhny's only previous trip to the semis at any Grand Slam was at the 2006 U.S. Open, and he made it by upsetting Nadal in the quarterfinals.
"It's another time, and I'm, like, another player," Youzhny said.
Thursday he hit fewer aces and fewer winners, needed treatment on his right foot in the fifth set and still came back to beat Wawrinka. "Maybe I was just a bit luckier than him," he said.
Clijsters-Venus make a multifaceted semi
Whether it's starting a family or a business, Kim Clijsters and Venus Williams have figured out how to make life about more than hitting a fuzzy yellow ball.
In today's semis, Clijsters tries to stay on track for her second straight title after a 21/2-year layoff during which she got married and had a baby, daughter Jada. The Belgian, 27, is trying to become the first woman to win back-to-back titles in New York since Williams did it in 2000-01.
"Just the ability to compete," Williams said of what impressed her most about Clijsters. "I think in coming back from her layoff … she never lost that."
That Williams has a chance to win again could be proof that diversification in life — she's been praised and criticized for business interests that keep her away from the court — has kept the seven-time major winner fresh at age 30. She has had injuries as well, including a twisted left kneecap that kept her from practicing for this Open.
"I think it's maybe even been good for her to have been away for that long," Clijsters said. "Because she looks more hungry than ever."
The winner of No. 2 Clijsters vs. No. 3 Williams plays for the title against No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki or No. 7 Vera Zvonareva. Zvonareva, this year's Wimbledon runnerup, is trying to make her second Grand Slam final of the year. Wozniacki lost to Clijsters in last year's Open final.