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Page last updated at 12:48 GMT, Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Nadal sets up Verdasco semi-final

Venue: Melbourne Park Date: 19 January-1 February
Coverage: BBC Red Button, Radio 5 Live sports extra, BBC Sport website (Red Button coverage streamed on website throughout fortnight)
Thursday's coverage: Andy Roddick v Roger Federer live on the Red Button, BBC Sport website (UK only) and 5 Live sports extra from 0830 GMT

Rafael Nadal
Nadal shows his relief after coming through a tough test against Simon

Top seed Rafael Nadal eased into the Australian Open semi-finals with a 6-2 7-5 7-5 win over France's Gilles Simon.

Nadal was far from his best but he did enough to see off the sixth seed and maintain his record of not dropping a set so far in the tournament.

The 22-year-old will face fellow Spaniard and 14th seed Fernando Verdasco in the last four on Friday.

Verdasco, who knocked out Andy Murray, beat another Frenchman, fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 7-6 (7-2) 3-6 6-3 6-2.

And the Spaniard is likely to prove tough opposition for Nadal, who arguably played his poorest match of the tournament so far and yet still came through against Simon relatively untroubled.

The world number one eased through the opening set and rarely looked troubled, but Simon recovered from a break down in the second before forcing a set point at 4-5, only for Nadal to hold and then break immediately on his way to a two-set lead.

It was a similar story in the third set as Simon again dug deep to make the most of Nadal's apparent rustiness and overcome an early break, before the Spaniard came up with the goods when it mattered most, breaking in game 11 on his way to victory.

"I don't know how I won, really," admitted Nadal after the match. "Today was tough because I couldn't play exactly my rhythm because I think he (likes to play) two metres behind the line and running all the time.

"I think I had to change the strategy a little bit, trying to play a little bit more slice, short balls, try to change the rhythm. Play higher, play lower. So that's what I tried today.

"Gilles is very good player, much improved in last few months, and it's a bit difficult to play in conditions like this - the ball is faster and it is very hot."

The Nadal-Simon match had to be played under a closed roof after conditions in Melbourne got so hot that officials had to act with the players' safety in mind.

Verdasco also benefited from playing under the closed roof, and Nadal admitted: "It will be incredible to play Fernando in the semi-final and we're guaranteed a Spaniard in the final which is great.


"He is in great form and it will be a very tough match, but I will enjoy it."

In the day's opening men's quarter-final, a tight first set between French star Tsonga and the 25-year-old Verdasco, packed with ferocious, powerful tennis, rapidly moved to a tie-break as neither player dropped serve.

Tsonga's serve looked weak early in the set but soon settled, while Verdasco rescued all four break points he offered with booming, outswinging serves for which the Frenchman had no answer.

Though Tsonga continued to examine his racquet strings quizzically, he and Verdasco appeared an almost perfect match for each other underneath the roof of Rod Laver Arena.

However, Tsonga came unstuck in the tie-break, particularly when Verdasco claimed a 5-1 lead off his opponent's serve with a glorious cross-court lob.

Fernando Verdasco
Verdasco showed pace, power and control to defeat Tsonga

Verdasco, who held two games to love in the first set, reproduced his fine, wide serve to earn four set points and converted at the first opportunity.

The Spaniard, ranked eight places below 23-year-old Tsonga in the world, continued to prove a tenacious, nimble and responsive opponent as the Frenchman sought a way back in the second set.

Tsonga generated early break points and, though he failed to take them, his serve remained devastatingly effective as he fired down his first love game of the match.

It took until the sixth game of the second set for either man's serve to fall. Verdasco attacked what looked an easy volley with too much power, sending it wide to hand Tsonga the break and, ultimately, the second set.

However, the previously impenetrable Tsonga serve collapsed early in the third.

Verdasco was still sprightly and energetic around the court with the roof blocking the heat, and he seized his opportunity, twice breaking serve to open up a 4-0 lead.

Verdasco immediately surrendered some of that advantage - Tsonga producing a ferocious cross-court passing shot to break back then holding serve with an eighth ace - but bravely held the seventh game under more pressure from the newly-invigorated fifth seed, and clung on to win the set.

When the 14th seed broke once more at the start of the fourth set, it looked difficult to see how Tsonga could recover.

Right now I'm feeling pretty good, and I just think that I can beat anyone

Fernando Verdasco

Verdasco's wicked first serve survived one last, desperate test from Tsonga, and the Spaniard converted his fourth of four break points before serving an ace to seal the win.

It was a win that Verdasco put directly down to his brilliant come-from-behind Davis Cup win against Argentina's Jiose Acasuso in November, which clinched the trophy for Spain.

"The Davis Cup, it changed my life so much and gave me a lot of confidence. It mentally made me much stronger for these matches here - the five-set matches and the pressure because it's a grand slam," the 25-year-old said.

"That tie in Argentina made me grow up a lot, I think, as a tennis player."

And when asked how he felt about a semi-final against compatriot Nadal, he added: "What I'm thinking right now is that I'm playing good. I'm feeling good and I'm in semi-finals.

"Playing against Nadal is going to be the toughest match possible. But, you know, I'm feeling pretty good and I just want to go out there for first time in the semi-finals in a grand slam and enjoy that moment and do my best.

"Right now I'm feeling pretty good, and I just think that I can beat anyone. But, you know, the same way that I can win, I can lose. I'm playing with the best players in the world so of course they are always tough matches."

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Women's singles draw
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Tennis on the BBC
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