Nadal reaches semis of US Open
After one early miss, Rafael Nadal slapped himself in the right thigh. After another, he put his hands on his hips and stared at the spot where his shot went 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.
The top-seeded Nadal figured out how to handle the wind that’s plagued the tournament, got his serve in gear after being broken for the only time in five matches, and beat No. 8 Fernando Verdasco 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 on Thursday night in the first all-Spanish quarterfinal in U.S. Open history.
Nadal’s streak of 62 consecutive holds of serve ended in Thursday’s third game, when he put a forehand in the net, allowing Verdasco to break him at love to go ahead 2-1. Nadal wouldn’t face another break point the rest of the match, though, and won the last 13 points he served in the second set.
In the very early going, Verdasco played the brand of point-extending, opponent-dispiriting defense that Nadal is so well-known for. But Nadal broke back to get to 4-all, thanks to Verdasco’s two double-faults in a row, and suddenly was seeming more and more comfortable.
Nadal broke Verdasco for a second time in the last game of the opening set thanks to a volley winner at the end of a 20-stroke exchange. By match’s end, Nadal was pulling out all the tricks, even hitting one half-volley while spinning around, putting the racket on the ball with his back to the net — sort of like a no-look pass in basketball.
And now Nadal is headed to a third consecutive semifinal at Flushing Meadows. Nadal never has reached a final in New York, losing at that stage to Andy Murray in 2008, and to eventual champion Juan Martin del Potro in 2009.
On Saturday, Nadal — trying to complete a career Grand Slam at age 24 by earning a U.S. Open trophy to put alongside the eight total he owns from the French Open, Wimbledon and Australian Open — will face 12th-seeded Mikhail Youzhny of Russia for a spot in the final.
No. 2 Roger Federer will face No. 3 Novak Djokovic in Saturday’s other semifinal; they won their quarterfinals Wednesday. Federer owns a record 16 Grand Slam titles, including five at the U.S. Open, and has faced Nadal in finals at the other three major tournaments.
The 12th-seeded Youzhny hit fewer aces and fewer winners, needed treatment on his right foot in the fifth set — and still managed to come back and beat 25th-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland 3-6, 7-6 (7), 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in four hours Thursday.
“Maybe I was just a bit luckier than him,” Youzhny said.
Four years ago, Russia’s Youzhny was unseeded at the U.S. Open, but he knocked off four seeded players, including Nadal in the quarterfinals, before losing to Andy Roddick in the semifinals.