Rafael Nadal overcame Ernests Gulbis and his continuing bout of fever with a courageous performance to reach the semi-finals of the Qatar Open on Thursday.
Nadal’s 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 win over Gulbis, a gifted but unpredictable Latvian ranked just outside the top 20, means that he is within one win of another episode of his great rivalry with Roger Federer.
However, the holder of three of the four Grand Slam titles could not capitalize on a good start, lacked his usual overwhelming physicality and often left the ball in short, attackable positions for a hard-hitting opponent.
Indeed, after relinquishing a 3-1 lead in the first set, there seemed to be doubts about whether Nadal, who has been on antibiotics, would last if it developed into a long, tough tussle.
Nadal called for the doctor, apparently feeling unwell. He was told to drink more and that if he didn’t feel better soon, he might then think about whether or not he wanted to continue.
That caused Nadal to call out rather alarmingly “water, water, water,” but although his performance remained below par, he always seemed the likely winner after surviving the tiebreaker.
The highlight of his effort was a brilliant plunging volley from a fierce passing shot by Gulbis at 30-40 in the sixth game of the second set, just when a break of serve might have lifted his young opponent to a higher level. After closing that game out for 4-2, he began to see the finish line and appeared to find extra energy as he did so.
“I just did the best I could today,” Nadal said. “I started well and I pushed him to make many mistakes. I will be more ready for my next match.”
His semi-final opponent will be Nikolay Davydenko, the defending champion from Russia, who overcame the steep serving of Ivo Karlovic, the former top 20 Croatian, 6-3, 7-5.
Davydenko beat Nadal in a sensational final last year, losing the first set to love and saving two match points in the process.
“I will be ready for him this time,” Nadal said.
Federer was not at his best either, but he reached his eighth successive semi-final since losing his Wimbledon title six months ago by outplaying Viktor Troicki 6-2, 6-2.
Federer passed up fully seven break points before breaking through for 4-2 in the second set, but there were still some signs of the improved form he has enjoyed since his association with coach Paul Annacone.
There was also a surreal phase, late in the first set, when Federer’s acceleration into a 5-2 lead coincided with a burst of noisy and colorful fireworks, as if they had been planned as an accompaniment to his explosive arts.
Federer now has a semi-final against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who is seeking his first title in 15 months after a long spell with knee problems, and who progressed with a 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (11/9) win over Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, the seventh-seeded Spaniard.
AP, CHENNAI, INDIA
Kei Nishikori of Japan rallied to beat Alejandro Falla of Colombia 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 on Thursday to reach the quarter-finals of the Chennai Open.
The 98th-ranked Nishikori, who beat two-time defending champion Marin Cilic in the opening round, was down a break and trailing 3-0 in the second set when he turned it around.
Also, sixth-seeded Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia defeated Alexandre Kudryavtsev of Russia 6-2, 7-6 (7-3), and eighth-seeded Robin Haase of the Netherlands beat Yuichi Sugita of Japan 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Swiss third seed Stanislas Wawrinka overcame Belgian qualifier David Goffin 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (7-3) to advance to the next round.
Falla, who stretched Roger Federer to five sets at Wimbledon last year, overpowered his Japanese opponent in the opening set with powerful strokes from the baseline and looked in complete control after going up a break early in the second.
However, Nishikori managed a break in the fourth game of that set and went on to win nine straight games. Falla, ranked 105th, smashed his racket on the court in frustration as his opponent took control.
The 49th-ranked Tipsarevic broke Kudryavtsev in the fourth and eight games to clinch the opening set, but the big serving Serbian was extended to the tiebreaker in the second set.
Last year’s runner-up Wawrinka was broken in the opening game of the first set, but broke back in the eighth to force the tiebreaker.
Goffin raced to a 3-0 lead in the second game, but Wawrinka broke his opponent in the seventh game and won on another tiebreaker.
‘CRIMINAL ACT’: The UCI said it ‘strongly condemns’ Dylan Groenewegen’s ‘dangerous behavior,’ which left Jakobsen in critical condition and injured other cyclists Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen was in a coma on Wednesday, in “serious” condition, after he was thrown into and over a barrier at 80kph in the conclusion to the opening stage of the Tour de Pologne. Footage showed 23-year-old Jakobsen, of the Deceuninck-Quick-Step, racing elbow-to-elbow with fellow Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen of Jumbo-Visma as both men frantically tussled in a tight sprint to the line in Katowice. However, Jakobsen came off worst, somersaulting over the barriers before colliding with a photographer after Groenewegen had veered suddenly to the right, squeezing his rival into the security wall. “His condition is very serious. His life is
Taiwan Steel on Sunday grabbed three points with a narrow 1-0 win against Hang Yuan FC, to move into the No. 2 spot on the Taiwan Football Premier League (TFPL) log, while Taipower FC beat NTUS 2-0 to maintain first place. Taking advantage early in the match of opposition defenders who had not yet settled down, Taiwan Steel’s attacking trio of Wu Chun-ching, Marc Fenelus from the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Benchy Astama from Haiti pushed forward with good passes. After only one minute of play, Fenelus dribbled from the right flank, feeding a short pass inside the penalty area to
LEAVING IT LATE: Rakuten added late runs last night to add to wins on Wednesday against the Brothers and the Lions on Friday that went down to the last batter The Rakuten Monkeys rallied to post three late runs for another close win, prevailing 5-3 over the Uni-President Lions yesterday as Taiwan’s second-half CPBL season got started with lower scoring output, but exciting finishes. It was Rakuten’s third win in a row. In two games this week, they seized victory in dramatic fashion with their last at-bat and have drawn level with the CTBC Brothers on top of the table after yesterday’s results, 0.5 games in front of the Fubon Guardians and 1.5 games ahead of the Lions. It was tied at 1-1 early, with Rakuten hosting the Lions at the Taoyuan Intenational
STAYING COOL: Hamilton said that his ‘heart nearly stopped’ when he noticed the puncture, but he kept going to beat Alain Prost’s total of six home wins in France Lewis Hamilton said he feared he might not make it home when a last lap puncture almost derailed his charge to a record seventh British Grand Prix victory on Sunday. “I didn’t think I would make it round the last two corners,” the world champion said. The front left tire of his Mercedes had delaminated and deflated on his final lap, leaving the six-time world champion to nurse his vehicle to the finish as second-placed Max Verstappen hunted him down. “I just can’t believe it,” Hamilton said. “It was heart-stopping. I backed off and stayed chilled and was so glad it happened on