Rafael Nadal’s comeback circa fall 2014 in Beijing was cut short earlier today thanks to the resolve of Martin Klizan. Klizan, who was down a set and 5-1 in the first round of qualification last weekend, fell by a break in the third set to the former No. 1 before roaring back winning 16 of the last 18 points and four straight games to stun Nadal 6-7, 6-4, 6-3.
I said yesterday Klizan could be a tricky opponent for Nadal who was playing in his first event in three months. And it turned out he was more than that.
“I think my tennis is now great,” said Klizan who has not taken at least a set in all three meetings with Rafa. “I think I can beat anyone on tour. For me this victory, that was the best night in my life. I’m just very happy that I beat Rafa. He’s a legend. I’m just very happy that I beat a legend.
“Rafa is a big star, he’s a big player. He was still up (in the third set). He was a set up and break. I had nothing to do, but I was just fighting. I’m just so proud of myself that I could win today. I’m looking forward to tomorrow to play the semi-finals. It’s my first semi-final in an ATP [World Tour] 500 tournament.”
Klizan will next face Tomas Berdych in the semis after the Czech rolled American John Isner lost just five games.
But the focus will be of course on Rafa who was so sharp in his first two matches.
“I knew for me it’s probably going to be hard, this last part of the season,” said Nadal after just his second career loss to a qualifier (Benneteau at 2004 Lyon). “It will not be easy after what happened. Always when you are outside for a few months, as I said the other day, it is not the same as if you are coming back the next season and everybody starts from zero. You are coming back now, and the other players are on the road, are in rhythm. Physically you feel more tired.
“But on the other side I did well in the past after an injury…I am positive that I can be ready soon and be ready to compete well against everybody soon.”
Nadal’s biggest problem this year has been his second serve and it again got exposed today. In the match against Klizan he won just 31% of the deliveries (Klizan won 56% of his), and that’s just not going to get it done, especially not indoors.
I know Rafa made some bad errors and his groundstrokes and game are rusty, but to me he has to get that second serve fixed. Maybe that will come with more practice and matches, I don’t know. We’ll see.
“I have to think about it day-by-day, trying to do the best as possible to do it again quickly. But I need time. I’m going to fight for it. I’m going to work hard with the right attitude to play better than what I did today. I’m going to try. I will be happy if I finish the season, take one week and a half holidays, and to practise one month with perfect conditions to try to start the next season with positive feelings.
“I am not 20 years old. I am 28 and a half already, and I need to take care about the things that I am doing because the most important thing for me is be competitive as long as possible.”
Rafa now heads to Shanghai where he’ll join just about everyone including Roger Federer in a loaded field.
In the other semifinal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray renew their rivalry. Djokovic blew out Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 6-4 while Murray played one of his best matches of the season crushing US Open champion Marin Cilic 6-1, 6-4.
“It’s just starting to become a little bit more consistent again,” said Murray. “I feel like I’m harder to beat just now than I was. At the beginning part of the year, I was quite up and down and inconsistent. But I’m starting to build some momentum, get that consistency back. That equals good wins against better opposition.”
In this rivalry of good friends, Djokovic leads Murray 13-8 having won both this year and five of the last six.
“It’s always difficult against Novak,” said Murray. “His form here, he’s never lost, which is very impressive. I’m aware it’s going to be an extremely difficult match tomorrow. But it will be very good for me to get that match and see if I can make some improvements from the US Open. If I play like I did at the US Open, I’ll definitely give myself an opportunity in the match. It’s going to be a good test and I look forward to it.”
“Andy just won last week the [Shenzhen] tournament, [he's on a] seven-match winning match streak,” said Djokovic. “I’ve seen a little bit of his matches this week. He’s hitting the ball very well. Every time I play him, it’s a huge challenge. It’s a very physical match. A lot of long rallies, exchanges. I do not expect anything less than that tomorrow.”
And it should be a good one that I think Djokovic wins.
In the women’s semifinals, Serena Williams followed Venus’s withdrawal by pulling out with a knee injury. That leaves Sam Stosur to play Petra Kvitova and Maria Sharapova to face Ana Ivanovic.
“I started to feel pain this week,” Serena said of her left knee. “It didn’t feel really well last night at all. I almost didn’t go on the court – I did at the last minute. I think it made it a little worse, to be honest.
“It throbs just sitting, standing. I felt it mostly serving because I’m landing on my left knee. That was really killer for me. Moving was okay – I didn’t do a tremendous amount of moving last night. I just tried to move as little as possible. So yeah, I felt it mostly when I was serving during the match.
“I haven’t had time to get an MRI scan yet, but I’ll do that and see what the problem is.”
“I’m probably going to go to Europe and see my doctors there,” she said. “They have a really good system there.”
And in Tokyo, Kei Nishikori will be the favorite against Benjamin Becker in one SF. The other sees Milos Raonic against Gilles Simon.
SATURDAY BEIJING SCHEDULE
NATIONAL TENNIS STADIUM start 12:30 pm
ATP –  N Djokovic (SRB) vs  [WC] A Murray (GBR)
Not Before 2:30 pm
WTA – S Stosur (AUS) vs  P Kvitova (CZE)
WTA –  M Sharapova (RUS) vs  A Ivanovic (SRB)
Not Before 7:30 pm
ATP –  T Berdych (CZE) vs [Q] M Klizan (SVK)
WTA –  A Hlavackova (CZE) / S Peng (CHN) vs K Mladenovic (FRA) / A Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) or  C Black (ZIM) / S Mirza (IND)
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