ABU DHABI // David Ferrer took advantage of a Rafael Nadal perhaps not as his finest, defeating his fellow Spaniard 6-3, 6-2 to move to the final of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship against world No 1 Novak Djokovic.
"Rafael has not been able to practice much because of his shoulder," said Ferrer, the world No 5. "But I played very consistent and was happy with my match."
Nadal, the world No 2, showed signs of rust at the start of the match, falling into a 5-0 first-set hole and managing only three points on his first two service games.
The day before, he had revealed that he had practised his serve only one day since helping Spain win the Davis Cup, early in the month. He said he felt significant pain in his shoulder after defeating Juan Martin del Potro, and took two weeks off to recuperate. The two-time defending champion decided only three days before this exhibition tournament in the UAE capital to return for the fourth consecutive year.
"He played fantastic," Nadal said of his compatriot. "I was not in my best condition; I had a little trouble with my shoulder in the last month, but David was fantastic."
The tournament will produce a Roger Federer-Nadal match on the final day tomorrow, but the old rivals will be playing for third place. Federer was overpowered by Djokovic 6-2, 6-1.
Ferrer and Djokovic will play for the US$250,000 winners prize in the second match today. Ferrer is making his second appearance here and Djokovic his first.
"It will be very difficult," Ferrer said. "Novak is No 1 in the world. I will do my best to make a good match against him."
"Definitely an incredible performance," Djokovic said. "Lots of confidence if I continue playing like this."
Djokovic won nine consecutive games to end the first set and begin the second, and Federer, the world No 3, seemed almost helpless.
"I prepared for a long match, had extra rackets with me," Federer said. "It's always a surprise when it goes quick, especially on the loser's side.
"He was playing very well. He's a very good front runner and took the early lead in both sets, and the conditions were quick and my game today wasn't good enough to be competitive."
Asked if he could remember a match at any point in his career, official or otherwise, where he lost 2-and-1, Federer said: "No."
Djokovic and Federer met five times during the 2011 ATP season, with the Serb winning four of the matches. Federer's victory was in the semi-finals of the French Open, the first defeat of the year for Djokovic, who opened the season with 41 consecutive victories.
"I expected him to be very strong again next year, and he's gonna be tought to beat," Federer said.
Federer spends up to two months each year in the UAE, and has played in all four editions of this Abu Dhabi tournament but has never won. Only once has he reached the final.
"It took me a long time to win Paris Bercy for the first time," he said. "The French Open was one I tried to chase down for a number of years. Hopefully, it will be the same here: when I win the first time it will be so much nicer."