For the second straight night Rafael Nadal found himself in a fight, this one was with the man who eliminated him from his last hard court event at the Australian Open, Marin Cilic.
The two squared off in the Canadian Open Toronto quarterfinals and it was Cilic racing out to a blistering 5-1 lead behind nearly impeccable play. But the Croat couldn’t sustain it and Rafa got his teeth in the match and took the second despite losing a late break and Cilic failing to level for 5-all.
In the third, both settled down until Nadal broke Cilic for the 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory.
“The way that he played in that first set was unstoppable,” Nadal said. “So I resisted him. I play with the right tactics. I tried to find my solutions, but it was so difficult. The dynamic was very bad for me and unbelievable good for him. So I know that the beginning of the second set would be decisive.
“And then at 2-1, I had that break where he missed couple of balls and was the first time in the match that he made some mistakes. Maybe that was a key moment. And of course that last game of the second set that he was up 40/15, and he made two mistakes. So yeah.”
The 3-time champion will now meet Karen Khachanov in the Saturday night semifinal. He leads the Russian 3-0.
“It means a lot to me to be in the semi-finals,” said Nadal. “It’s because it was a very important match for me. Being in the semi-finals is great news at the start of the hard court season. And winning three good matches in the first Masters 1000 is so important for me.”
Khachanov had no trouble at all ousting last year’s surprise semifinalist Robin Haase 6-3, 6-1 to reach his first career Masters semifinal.
“I’m happy with this performance that I could reach my first semi-final,” the 22-year-old Khachanov said. “But I don’t want to be satisfied because there is always something that you can do better. So that’s why I’m focusing already on the next match.”
Earlier in the day, Kevin Anderson made his second career Masters semi hammering Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 6-2.
“It was definitely a great match today,” said Anderson who was 1-6 against the Bulgarian at the start of the day. “I felt I played really well right from the beginning. I think I played some really good tennis in the last couple of matches, just not from the start.
“I felt I was in a really good frame of mind, playing the kind of tennis that I knew I wanted to be playing and needed to be playing.”
And in the surprise of the day, defending champion Alexander Zverev looked in total control leading teen Stefanos Tsitsipas up 6-3, 5-2. But Zverev completely fell apart, squandered two match points in the ensuing breaker. And he promptly smashed a racquet.
Then in the third, after failing to hold a break lead, Zverev was serving 4-5, 30-15 to stay in it, when failed to challenge an out forehand that was in and would have given him 40-15. Instead it was 30-all, and he gagged a volley, then down match point he double faulted giving Tsitsipas the 3-6, 7-6(11), 6-4 victory.
“I don’t think he played that well. I think the match was absolutely pathetic on all levels,” Zverev said. “I’m very honest with you guys. Today was an absolute pathetic match I don’t even think he played well.
“I mean, I was up 6-3, 5-3, serving for the match. So it should have been a three and three match, and then I would have been [in press] about one-and-a-half hours ago,” added Zverev. “But now I’m going to go to Cincinnati. I’ll do everything I can to prepare myself there and play well there. But as I said, I didn’t feel the ball at all. I didn’t play well. So a lot of it didn’t depend on me.”
Tsitsipas has now won three straight matches over Top 10 players. And having been ranked outside the Top 160 a year ago, he’ll be in the Top 20 come Monday.
“Achieving such things makes me feel nice,” said Tsitsipas. “I’m very proud of who I am and at this age to have these kind of results, which I never expected. I always thought it’s going to take more years for this to happen. But with the hard work that I’ve been doing, it’s no surprise to me. I believe I have the game to compete against these players. I’m feeling very confident.”
So will he make it a fourth? Up next is Anderson who he beat in Estoril.
“A very tough opponent to face on hard courts,” he said of Anderson. “He has a huge serve. He can be really dangerous. He’s attacking a lot and takes the ball early. So again, I’m walking into with low expectations. I know he’s the favorite again.
“I’m going to try to remain calm. I know he’s going to ace a lot tomorrow. He’s going to be put pressure with his serve and his returns. So I’m ready for that and it’s going to be a tough match… It’s an opportunity to do again well in this tournament, even better. I’m going to try to use my chances as much as I can.”
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