Nadal scores first top-five win in more than a year
Rafael Nadal is starting to look like his dominant former self, the player who won 14 Grand Slam titles. He’s even beating the top players again.
After struggling with his confidence and consistency for much of the season, the Spanish star beat a top-five player for the first time in more than a year with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals of the Shanghai Masters on Friday.
It wasn’t just a victory, but a convincing one. It was Nadal’s most lopsided win over Wawrinka in 15 meetings.
"Obviously, when you play against the best players, you want to play well and be competitive," he said. "I am happy. I am working so hard every day, with the right energy, I believe."
Top-seeded Novak Djokovic also advanced with his 15th consecutive victory, holding off Australia’s Bernard Tomic in a tight first-set tiebreaker before closing it out 7-6 (6), 6-1.
Djokovic will play Andy Murray in Saturday’s semifinal after the third-seeded Briton saw off Tomas Berdych 6-1, 6-3. Nadal will play Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the other semifinal after the French player topped Kevin Anderson of South Africa 7-6 (6), 5-7, 6-4.
Nadal looked sharp throughout the match against Wawrinka and his shots had the pace and depth they lacked at times this year. For the second straight match, he also faced only one break point, which he saved.
Nadal hadn’t won against a top-five player since last year’s French Open final when he defeated Djokovic for the title. After that victory, the rest of his season was derailed by a wrist injury and appendicitis, and when he returned this year, he’s had to overcome doubts he’d be able to return to his old form.
Losses to Dustin Brown at Wimbledon and Italy’s Fabio Fognini on three different occasions only dented his confidence further.
"I don’t believe in drastic changes," he said. "What I believe is play weeks in a row, play at solid level, and that’s what I feel I am doing better and better."
The fourth-seeded Wawrinka was clearly not at his best on Friday. The French Open champion missed wildly on his groundstrokes, finishing with 34 unforced errors.
He was playing his eighth match in the past 10 days after winning the title in Tokyo last week and had a tough three-set victory over Marin Cilic on Thursday that finished late at night.
"Today I was just struggling a little bit. It’s that simple," he said. "Against Nadal you cannot do anything if you’re not 100 percent."
Djokovic is also coming off a title run last week at the China Open, but he’s spent far less time on court. Until Friday, he hadn’t lost more than five games in any of his seven matches in Beijing and Shanghai.
Tomic pressed him in the first set, rallying from 2-4 down to force a tiebreaker and then saving two set points before Djokovic finally converted on the third.
"(It) went down to a couple points decided the first set in the tiebreak," Djokovic said. "Obviously was a huge relief for me to win the first set."
Djokovic has a 19-9 overall record over Murray and has won eight of their nine contests. Murray took their latest match, however, in Montreal in August.
"It wasn’t like I was going out there and getting blown off the court," Murray said of his recent losses to Djokovic. "I was playing some good tennis and hanging with him. I managed to do that throughout the whole match when we played in Montreal. Hopefully, I can play another good one tomorrow."