DOHA // Rafael Nadal was kept waiting for nearly three hours yesterday by two of tennis's lesser mortals contesting the right to face him in tonight's semi-finals of the Qatar Open. Once Viktor Troicki, the fifth-seeded Serbian, had finally accounted for the the Polish Lucasz Kubot in a final set tie-break, the brilliant Spaniard was determined to make up for lost time.
Long before his gallant opponent Steve Darcis, a Belgian qualifier, began to lose mobility because of a back strain, Nadal was in control of their one-sided encounter. Four games up in next to no time, he was in complete command and clearly delighted with the state of his game as he prepares to defend his Australian Open title. "I've started the season winning which is great," said Nadal who was detained for only 37 minutes before Darcis went to the umpire's chair at 6-1, 2-0 saying he was unfit to continue.
"I played well in Abu Dhabi last week, I've made it to the last four here without losing a set, I've been serving well and playing really well from the baseline. "I have to try and improve every day but I'm moving in the right direction at the moment." There were ironic cheers from the Khalifa Stadium crowd when Darcis broke his duck in the fifth game but that was the only crumb of consolation for the world No 122 who had come through five matches to earn his privileged first crack at Nadal.
A disappointing first set for the spectators was over in only 26 minutes and it then became a question of how much punishment Darcis, who will have to go through qualifying for the Australian Open, was prepared to take. He apologised to Nadal as they shook hands prematurely and Nadal, who has endured a torrid time with injuries, particularly his knees, over the last few months, was at pains to express sympathy for his opponent in the face of jeers of dissatisfaction from short-changed fans.
The opposite had applied in the first match of the day as Troicki and Kubot became bogged down in a war of attrition, the outcome of which was hard to predict until the final game. Kubot will feel he should have claimed the meeting with Nadal but clearly choked when serving for the match in the deciding set. The top half of the draw was due to take shape later last night. Roger Federer, the No 1 seed and twice a previous champion in Doha, was up against the big serving Latvian Ernests Gulbis, a player he had never met before.
Last on court was Nikolay Davydenko, the third-seeded Russian who ended the last campaign on a career high by winning the ATP Tour finals in London. He had to get past the formidable serve of Croatia's Ivo Karlovic. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org