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SPORTS

Nadal sweeps Almagro off Paris clay

Reigning champion to meet David Ferrer in semifinals

Rafael Nadal reacts after beating Nicolás Almagro in the French Open last eight.
Rafael Nadal reacts after beating Nicolás Almagro in the French Open last eight. KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (AFP)

Second seed Rafael Nadal swept into the semifinals of the French Open on Wednesday despite the best efforts of his compatriot, Nicolás Almagro, to derail the reigning champion's bid for a record seventh title. The all-Spain contest finished 7-6, 6-2, 6-3 in favor of the Mallorcan.

Almagro, whose own progress to the last eight was achieved without dropping a set, ran Nadal close in the opening stages of the match with aggressive hitting that saw the 12th seed rack up 18 winners to his opponent's 14.

However, this all-or-nothing approach was thwarted by Nadal, who combated Almagro's tactic of trying to keep rallies short with his own blistering ground strokes. The world number two won more points of three shots or less than Almagro and was more solid on his own serve, gleaning 84 percent of points played on his first delivery.

Almagro forced a tie-break in the first, but swiftly fell behind after a string of wild shots and ceded the set 4-7. The weight of statistics from that point did not favor an Almagro resurgence: the second seed has lost just twice at Grand Slam tournaments after winning the first set.

Nadal started to exert his superiority in the second set, causing an increasingly frustrated Almagro to go for broke, a ploy that eventually told as his unforced error count skyrocketed. Crucially, Nadal's remained in single figures during the first two sets and he ended the contest with just 15 to Almagro's 44. In terms of clean winners, the 12th seed managed 39 to Nadal's 36.

Nadal had barely been stretched at this year's tournament, dropping 19 games and ceding his serve just once, a remarkable statistic that remained intact after the quarterfinal clash, despite Almagro fashioning four break-point opportunities. After the tightly contested first set, which lasted more than an hour, Nadal broke Almagro three times in six attempts to wrap up the win after 166 minutes on court.

The victory was Nadal's 50th on the Parisian clay, one more than Björn Borg, whose record of titles Nadal will hope to smash on Sunday. "I pass a test every day," said Nadal after the match.

"Against Mónaco I also had a test. It is difficult to play against Almagro at the moment because he is one of the best in the world on clay. I'm very happy to have gone through. In the third set I had to wait for my chance. He had his chances as well and was hitting very hard."

Before a potential final against either world number one Novak Djokovic, who is bidding to become the first player since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four Grand Slams simultaneously, or Roger Federer, who has more major titles than any player in history, Nadal faces a semifinal against either fourth seed Andy Murray or world number six David Ferrer.

The match between the Scot and the Spaniard was delayed temporarily due to rain but it proved to be merely a stay of execution for Murray, who has been carrying a back injury throughout the tournament and could not find the extra verve to throw Ferrer off the scent of a first Roland Garros semifinal.

The world number six won 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2 to reach the last four, where he will face Nadal yet again. Friday's match will be the 20th meeting between the two players, with Nadal holding a 15-4 career record over Ferrer. In the 2005 quarterfinals in Paris, the Mallorcan won in straight sets on his way to his first title.

"David Ferrer deserves more than a semifinal here, it's true, but I hope it won't be this year," said Nadal with a smile.

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