Sports

Top Seed Nadal Advances To US Open Semis

(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (AP) — Most signs point toward Rafa vs. Roger in the U.S. Open final. If that does come to pass, Fernando Verdasco knows who he’d pick.

After losing in straight sets to No. 1 Rafael Nadal on yet another semi-miserable, windblown night in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Thursday, Verdasco walked away more impressed by the conditions – and by Roger Federer – than anything Nadal did.

“If I had to bet, I’d bet for Roger,” Verdasco said. “He likes it here, he’s won five times here and he likes these conditions.”

Nadal wasn’t so bad in them either, overcoming his first dropped service game of the tournament to scrub out eighth-seeded Verdasco 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 in the first all-Spanish quarterfinal in U.S. Open history.

Like Federer, Nadal has yet to lose a single set in five matches at Flushing Meadows.

Like Federer, Nadal handles bad conditions like a real pro.

In advancing to his third straight U.S. Open semifinal, Nadal improved to 11-0 lifetime against Verdasco – victories scored around the world, on almost every kind of surface and in almost every kind of weather. But when it was over, Verdasco sounded less overwhelmed by his opponent than depressed that he didn’t get Nadal on a better night: “For the game I need to beat Rafa, these conditions was very bad for me,” he said.

Meanwhile, told of Verdasco’s early handicapping, Nadal took no offense.

“Well, for sure Roger is the favorite of the tournament, especially because he’s won five times,” Nadal said. “And six finals in a row. No one doubts on that one. And I am in the semifinals, so I don’t think about the final. Everybody free to think, and what Fernando says is completely fair.”

Indeed, there is still some business to be completed before the dream final – a pairing that has taken place at every Grand Slam final except the U.S. Open. (Nadal is 5-2 in those meetings.)

Setting up a semifinal match against Nadal was No. 12 Mikhail Youzhny, who defeated No. 25 Stanislas Wawrinka 3-6, 7-6 (7), 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in a contest Thursday afternoon that featured 128 unforced errors. Youzhny made his second U.S. Open semifinal with a performance that, frankly, he’ll need to pump up if he’s going to pull off an upset against the world’s top player.

“Yeah, I’m ready to be bad person,” the Russian said when asked if he’d like to ruin the Rafa-Roger storyline. “I love to be bad person in this case.”

Also on Saturday, Federer will play No. 3 Novak Djokovic – a match set up when both won their quarterfinals in straight sets Wednesday.

Friday’s action in Arthur Ashe Stadium includes the two women’s semifinals – defending champion Kim Clijsters against Venus Williams and top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki against No. 7 Vera Zvonareva.

Nadal was the fourth and final man to punch his ticket to the semifinals and he used a couple of memorable shots to get there.

There was a great get in the back corner he made on what should’ve been an easy kill shot at the net by Verdasco – a shot so good it left Nadal offering a friendly wave toward his opponent, as if to apologize.

And then there was the trick shot. Running toward the net to chase a softly hit ball being blown around by the wind, Nadal hit a spinning, no-look, half-volley. Highlight-reel material, though Nadal insisted it was no big deal.

“I thought it was an instinct shot,” he said. “I had to turn the 360 to have enough space to put the ball” in the court.

All good things must end eventually, of course, and Nadal finally lost a service game against Verdasco, dropping the third game of the first set to snap a 62-for-62 string of holds in the tournament.

Not to worry. Five games later, Verdasco double-faulted on the last two points to give the break back, then Nadal got another one to avoid the tiebreaker and close out the set, 7-5. He got a break in each of the next sets to close out what will go down as a routine victory, nothing like their epic, five-set, 5-hour semifinal at the 2009 Australian Open.

“When I had the chance, I tried to play hard and go to the net to close the point,” Verdasco said. “But when I had these balls, the ball was moving all the time and it was impossible to play the game that I think I need to try to have chances to beat Rafa.”

Point well taken.

Still, it has been interesting to contrast the way the world’s two best players discuss the nasty wind with the way everyone else talks about it.

After his win over No. 5 Robin Soderling on Wednesday, Federer said he liked playing in wind because of the challenge it provides.

Nadal, meanwhile, conceded he was “scared” by the wind – but gained confidence quickly because he knows how to adjust.

“The movements must be all the time high intensity and the concentration must be all the time full,” he said. “So probably both those things are one of the best things about my game.”

After three sets of fighting off Nadal, and watching Nadal fight off the weather, not even Verdasco could argue with that.

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