Rafa Nadal will return to the top of the world rankings after Tomas Berdych retired with a back injury during their China Open semi-final yesterday.
Serb Novak Djokovic, who will lose top spot when the new rankings are announced tomorrow, brushed aside Frenchman Richard Gasquet 6-4, 6-2 in the other semi-final to set up a final against arch-rival Nadal.
Berdych, trailing 2-4 in the opening set, tweaked his back while running for a backhand slice and needed a medical timeout.
He returned to the court, but after a few points decided he could no longer continue, handing the Spaniard an easy passage into the final.
Nadal, who boosted his Grand Slam singles tally to 13 this year by winning the French and US Opens, has not been ranked No. 1 since July 2011 but has produced a stunning run since returning from a long injury layoff in February.
“[This is] a great year, one of the best years of my career without any doubt,” Nadal told reporters.
“[It] sure is special be back to the top position of the rankings after more than a half year without playing tennis,” he said. “At the end, it’s just a number... What [makes] me happy is [everything] I did to be back where I am today.”
He has lost two finals since his return, winning 10 tournaments and adding more than US$10 million in prize money this year.
The semi-final victory extended Nadal’s winning run to 21 matches and another triumph today would give him his first China Open title since 2005.
“[It] will be a great finish [to] the season if I am able to finish the season [at] the No. 1 spot,” the Spaniard said. “For that, I am sure I need to win more matches if I want to be there.”
“I [won’t] go to sleep tonight feeling that I am the best player of the world. That’s something that I never thought, and I don’t ... think [that] now today,” Nadal said.
His job will not be easy, though, as Djokovic might have a point to prove. The Serb was broken by Gasquet in the fourth game of the opening set, but came back strongly to advance.
In the women’s tournament world No. 1 Serena Williams and Serbian eighth seed Jelena Jankovic set up a final showdown after their contrasting victories yesterday.
The top-seeded American hit 31 winners to thrash Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 6-2.
Jankovic had to rally from a set down to notch up her first career win against ninth seed Petra Kvitova 6-7 (7/9) 6-1, 6-1.
“She has always given me a lot of trouble and didn’t allow me to play my game,” Jankovic said. “Even today in the first set she was controlling the points.”
“I was still there, but didn’t feel comfortable, but in the next two sets I felt like I went on top of her and took control,” she said.