x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Nadal survives Gasquet pressure to reach Italian Open final

Nadal takes his appointed place and now awaits the winner of Djokovic-Murray semi-final.

Rafael Nadal returns the ball to Richard Gasquet during their semi-final match.
Rafael Nadal returns the ball to Richard Gasquet during their semi-final match.

ROME // Rafael Nadal overcame a stiff first-set challenge from Richard Gasquet before rolling to a 7-5, 6-1 win in the Italian Open semi-finals.

The top-ranked Spaniard faced break points in three different games during the opening set but won all of them to improve his career record against Gasquet to 9-0.

"It was a complicated situation on my serve in the (first set) but I managed to pull through," Nadal said. "I'm happy to make the final after a difficult week."

In Sunday's final, Nadal will face either second-ranked Novak Djokovic or No 4 Andy Murray, who were meeting later on another cloudless day at the Foro Italico. Djokovic is aiming to extend his 37-match winning streak.

Nadal is attempting to win this clay-court tournament for the sixth time in seven years.

Djokovic has beaten Nadal in all three finals they've played this year, including at the Madrid Open last weekend, when Djokovic registered his first victory over Nadal on clay.

"I don't want to be stupid. I prefer Murray. I've lost three times to Djokovic," Nadal said. "If it's Djokovic I'll probably play with less pressure than before because I (am no longer) the favorite.

"I'm happy with my clay-court season. How I'm playing in the last couple of matches is the way forward, more aggressively."

Nadal improved his career record in Rome to 31-1, with his only loss coming to countryman Juan Carlos Ferrero in his opening round three years ago. He didn't appear to show any effects of the virus that slowed him during his opening two matches this week.

Nadal said he no longer has a fever or any pain from the virus. "Every day I'm playing better after that disastrous first day," Nadal said, referring to his three-set win over Italian qualifier Paolo Lorenzi in his opener.

Despite the loss, the 16th-seeded Gasquet should take some confidence into the French Open, which starts next weekend. The Frenchman eliminated Roger Federer in the third round and beat seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals.

"It was a fantastic tournament for him," Nadal said. "I'm happy to see him back at his best. He's a good friend."

Before he appeared to run out of energy, Gasquet gave Nadal some trouble with a varied game plan - flattening out his elegant one-handed backhand for winners but also coming forward to conclude points at the net.

However, at 5-5 in the first set, a couple of short balls from Gasquet allowed Nadal to take control. On Nadal's first break point of the set, Gasquet followed a serve out wide to the net and Nadal hit a backhand cross-court return winner to take a 6-5 lead, then served it out.

In women's semifinal action earlier, Australia's Sam Stosur beat fourth-seeded Li Na of China 7-6 (6), 6-0 to advance to her first final since losing to Francesca Schiavone at Roland Garros last year.

Stosur saved a set point in the tiebreaker when Li, the Australian Open runner-up, missed a forehand wide. Stosur then closed out the set with an authoritative forehand winner and cruised from there.

Stosur said losing the French Open final affected her psyche.

"I was very disappointed and I had to look at the positive side because I had a very good tournament as well but, at that time, it is not always easy to see those things," Stosur said. "I have played some good matches and tournaments in the past 12 months but I just was not able to get the last bit again so, now that I am better, I am excited to be there."

Stosur will face either top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki or seventh-seeded Maria Sharapova, who were playing later.

"Probably a couple of years ago I realized that my game is good clay and I can play very well on this surface," Stosur said. "I would like to see more tournaments on clay."