Sunday, June 24, 2018
Sports

Nadal calling the shots

PARIS — It was about time Rafael Nadal faced some sort of test at the French Open.

Not that this one lasted all that long or was all that taxing.

Still, after dropping a total of 19 games through his first four matches — the fewest at Roland Garros in 30 years — Nadal finally found himself in an even-as-can-be set at the outset of his quarterfinal against 12th-seeded Nicolas Almagro.

While Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have been forced to come back from two-set deficits in Paris, this qualified as a tight spot for Nadal. They went to a tiebreaker, and when Almagro's backhand return of a 121 mph serve landed out to cede the set, Nadal leaned forward and yelled, "Come on!"

Maybe it signaled excitement. This much was clear: Nadal can summon his best play when he needs it. Moving closer to a record seventh French Open championship, Nadal reached the semifinals by beating Almagro 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, 6-3 to improve to 50-1 at the claycourt Grand Slam tournament.

"I played well. I applied my strategy. I tried to do my best," Almagro said. "But he was at such a high level."

As he always is at Roland Garros. This year, though, Nadal's level has been even higher than usual.

Not only has he won all 15 sets he has played, he has won 60 of his 61 service games, 54 in a row since getting broken in the second set of his first-round victory. He has saved 16 of 17 break points, including going 4-for-4 against Almagro.

"If I'd not lost any set and not lost my serve, it would have been a miracle," the second-seeded Nadal said. "It's just impossible to achieve that."

The next player who will try to stop him is No. 6 David Ferrer. He reached his third major semifinal but first at the French by eliminating No. 4 Andy Murray 6-4, 6-7 (7-3), 6-3, 6-2 in a match interrupted by a half-hour rain delay early in the third set.

"Winning a match against Rafa is almost impossible," Ferrer said of his fellow Spaniard. "He is in such good shape."

Ferrer and Federer are both 30 — the last two of the record 37 thirtysomethings who were in the draw — and it's the first time two French Open semifinalists were at least that old since Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall in 1969.

Against Murray, Ferrer was the picture of perpetual motion, chasing down shots to extend points time after time.

Maria Sharapova moved another step closer to filling in the last piece of the career Grand Slam, defeating Kaia Kanepi 6-2, 6-3 to reach the semifinals.

Second-seeded Sharapova rolled through her 23rd-seeded opponent in 74 minutes, a much different scene than the three-set win over Klara Zakopalova in the fourth round that took more than three hours.

"I'm happy with the way I improved in this match," Sharapova said.

Her next opponent is fourth-seeded Petra Kvitova, the Wimbledon champion who ended 142nd-ranked qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova's upset-filled run with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory.

Kvitova reached the semi­finals for the third time over the past four Grand Slams.

Sharapova made the semifinals at the French for the third time. She lost at that stage last year and in 2007.

"I love coming back here, love challenging myself to get further every year, and I hope this is this year," she said.

In today's other semifinal, Tampa resident and No. 6 Sam Stosur faces No. 21 Sara Errani, who is winless against Stosur, the U.S. Open champion, in five tries.

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