NOVAK Djokovic and Rafael Nadal overcame tough challenges in their quarter-finals at the Shanghai Masters to edge closer to another possible showdown in the final.
Djokovic, the defending champion, survived a draining battle against Gael Monfils, rallying to win 6-7 (4-7), 6-2, 6-4. Top-ranked Nadal saved three set points and finally closed out a 20-minute tie-break in the first set against Stanislas Wawrinka before winning 7-6 (10-8), 6-1.
Djokovic and Nadal improved to a combined 20-0 record against the pair.
Their semi-final opponents had far easier matches. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeated Florian Mayer 6-2, 6-3, while Juan Martin del Potro advanced with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Nicolas Almagro. Tsonga next plays Djokovic, while del Potro meets Nadal.
If Djokovic and Nadal do meet in the final, it would be their 39th professional match-up and second in as many weeks. Djokovic defeated Nadal last Sunday in the China Open final in Beijing.
Djokovic looked out of sorts against Monfils. The Serb dropped serve twice in the first three games. “Inexplicably, I started serving quite badly, but not many unforced errors,” he said. “It’s just sometimes that you start off slowly and you’re not feeling the ball as much.”
Monfils played remarkable defence in the first set, sliding and stretching for every ball and forcing errors. But in the second set, at 3-1 down, he sprinted after a drop shot and did a split trying to reach it, falling on his back. After lying still for 15 seconds, he finally wandered back to the service line and received a time violation.
Monfils angrily questioned the umpire about the rule and berated him further on the changeover. Then, a couple of games later, he began grimacing in pain and took an injury timeout to have a trainer massage his abdominal muscles. He never recovered. “It was really tough,” said the Frenchman. “It was tough for me to serve full bore. For sure, against Novak, it’s impossible to win if not serving 100 per cent.”
Nadal also had a fight in the first set against Wawrinka – a player who had never taken a set off him in ten matches.
After fending off three set points by Wawrinka, the Spaniard hit a cleverly disguised drop shot from the baseline to go up 11-10 in the tiebreak and finally managed to win it on his fourth set point.
Del Potro and Tsonga, meanwhile, each spent a little over an hour on the court. Del Potro moved back into the top five in the rankings on Monday for the first time in more than three years and Tsonga believes he has a good chance against Djokovic, despite losing their past eight matches. “I think he has lost more matches this year than the other years, so maybe it’s an opportunity for me,” he said.