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Nadal advances to semis

Youzhny next up for the top seed

By Howard Fendrich
Associated Press / September 10, 2010

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NEW YORK — 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, last night in the first all-Spanish quarterfinal in US Open history.

Nadal’s streak of 62 holds of serve ended in the 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, and won the last 13 points he served in the second set.

In the 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 4-4, 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 Juan Martin del Potro in 2009.

Tomorrow, Nadal — trying to complete a career Grand Slam at age 24 by earning a US 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 tomorrow’s other semifinal; they won their quarterfinals Wednesday.

Nadal has won his last 19 Grand Slam matches, including titles in 2010 at the French Open and Wimbledon.

Youzhny’s only previous trip to the semifinals at any Grand Slam tournament came at the 2006 US Open, and he made it there by upsetting Nadal in the quarterfinals.

“It’s another time, and I’m, like, another player,’’ Youzhny said. “I cannot say I am a better player now, but it’s another time and other opponent, so everything can happen.’’

He hit fewer aces and fewer winners, needed treatment on his right foot in the fifth set — and still managed to come back and beat No. 25 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland, 3-6, 7-6 (9-7), 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, in four hours yesterday.

“Maybe I was just a bit luckier than him,’’ Youzhny said.

During Nadal’s 11th victory in 11 career matchups against Davis Cup teammate Verdasco, the wind regularly topped 15 miles per hour, with gusts reaching 25.

Neither player seemed pleased by the conditions, and Verdasco looked up at his guest box in the second game after hitting one of his six double faults. In the next game, however, he played some terrific sliding, stretching defense during a 20-stroke exchange he capped with a backhand passing winner to earn a break point.

He converted that, but never got another chance to really rattle Nadal.