Nadal reaches Australian Open semis in career first
Compatriot Ferrer to battle Djokovic for a place today23 January 2008
MADRID - Rafael Nadal passed another marker in his professional career on Tuesday: the tennis-world number two beat Finn Jarkko Nieminen 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the Australian Open semifinals for the first time ever.
Until yesterday, the three-time French Open winner and clay court master had never made it to a Grand Slam final four on a hard court. His best two performances on the surface had been a quarterfinal spot at last year's Australian Open as well as in the 2006 US Open.
But all that changed yesterday, and could be parlayed into another career-first final appearance, if he gets past the unseeded surprise contender Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Thursday.
"If I'm in the final on Sunday it's going to be a dream for me, to start the season like this," Nadal said post-match on Tuesday.
Even more impressive is that the Spaniard, who has been subject to speculation about the status of his physical condition since the summer, has made it to the semifinals of the season's first Grand Slam without dropping a set. "Getting here without losing a set is always an important point," he said.
Perhaps serving to explain his recent success is that the Majorcan is playing more aggressively, as well as sporting a more powerful first serve, something he has been working to refine.
"For sure everybody tells me that I have to play more aggressively on the hard court. 'You have to serve better.' I'm trying. I'm always working very hard. This is what I do in practice. When I say a lot, it's a lot."
Despite being down 4-5 in the first set, Nadal fought back, overcoming two set points in Nieminen's favour to win the next three games in a row, before moving on to take the next two sets with relative ease.
He will next face Open surprise Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Thursday, who will be disputing his first career Grand Slam semifinal. Despite this, it is doubtful that it will be smooth sailing for the world number two, as the unseeded Frenchman (38 in the ATP rankings) has ploughed through three of tennis' toughest competitors on his impressive semifinal run.
On Tuesday, Tsonga saw off the 14th seed Mikhail Youzhny in straight sets, 7-5, 6-0 7-6. On the way, the 22-year old promise also beat Britain's ninth seed Andy Murray in the first round, and then proceeded to beat Sam Warburg, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and eighth seed Richard Gasquet to end up among the tournament's last four.
"It's just unbelievable. It's amazing, I don't know what to say," Tsonga said on Tuesday.
Besides Nadal, Spaniard David Ferrer will also be aiming for his first Australian Open semis playing third-ranked Novak Djokovic today. Ferrer's best Grand Slam performance was halted at reaching the US Open semifinal round last year.
[Copyright EL PAÍS / KELLY RAMUNDO 2008]
Subject: Spanish news