Nadal One Win from Wimbledon Final

Posted on July 7, 2006

Seeking to become the first Spaniard to reach the Wimbledon final in the Open Era, world No. 2 Rafael Nadal advanced to the semifinals Thursday, using his muscular baseline game to wear down Finn Jarkko Nieminen 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in a match postponed from the previous day due to rain.

Critics pooh-poohed Nadal's chances this year at Wimbledon before it became apparent just how changed the grasscourts have become, with a denser, higher-cut, hard-packed turf turning the All England Club into the US Open, and just how quickly the Spaniard can adapt. Nadal's comfort level on the grass has become apparent with the left-hander having little problem producing the passing shots that have stymied opponents such as Roger Federer on clay and hardcourts.

"I am playing with more confidence, especially with my serve," said Nadal who frustrated Nieminen's attempts to mix up his game with net play. "With my forehand I am especially improving. I am coming in a bit more. That's very important on this surface...It's very important to play aggressive. I am still learning for sure. I am 20 years old and I need to improve and improve always."

Nieminen said the left-handed Spaniard hitting the heavy ball didn't allow him to find his groove.

"He's a tough opponent but at the same time I'm disappointed how I played," Nieminen said. "I think this was my worst match here. It's a great achievement to be in the quarterfinals but it would have been nice to also play well. I served really badly. Sometimes he doesn't let you play, but with some easy shots, some easy volleys and returns I didn't do well."

Standing between Nadal and a likely meeting with Federer in the final is Australian Open runner-up Marcos Baghdatis, who like Nadal has suddenly found his grasscourt legs in 2006, on Wednesday defeating former Wimbledon champ Lleyton Hewitt.

"I have very good motivation," said Nadal of playing Baghdatis Friday on little rest.

In the other semifinal Friday, the world No. 1 Federer will be the enormous favorite against unseeded 34-year-old Swede Jonas Bjorkman, who hasn't won a set off the Swiss in three previous meetings.