Djokovic and Nadal set up Madrid Open semifinal

MADRID — Rafael Nadal set up a semifinal with Novak Djokovic after withstanding a tough challenge from David Goffin 7-6 (3), 6-2 at the Madrid Open on Friday.

Djokovic, the defending champion, advanced when Kei Nishikori withdrew before their quarterfinal because of a wrist injury.

“It’s going to be a very tough match against one of the best players in tennis history,” Nadal said. “I’ve been playing at a high level during many weeks. I know tomorrow is going to be a day that either I play really well or I’m not going to have many chances.”

Nadal hasn’t beaten Djokovic since the 2014 French Open final, losing their last seven matchups.

“I’m not worried about it,” Nadal said. “There are matches that if you play your good tennis, you have chances. If he plays at a good level, he’s going to win. If we both play well … it can go either way.”

On the women’s side, defending champion Simone Halep of Romania cruised past Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia 6-2, 6-3 to reach her third Madrid Open final. The third-seeded Halep, who lost the 2014 final to Maria Sharapova, will play Kristina Mladenovic of France.

Mladenovic made it to her fourth final of the year— and second consecutive — by defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia 6-4, 7-6 (4).

“I just want to go there and (play) my game, because if I do, I have a big chance to win,” Halep said.

In a meeting between the players with the most match wins this year, Nadal saved all five break points he faced against the 10th-ranked Goffin, and converted his chances in the second set to win his 13th straight match and tour-leading 32nd of the year.

Goffin, who has 27 victories, was trying to make it to his third final this season.

He saved all six break opportunities he conceded to Nadal in the first set, but the fifth-ranked Spaniard took control of the tiebreaker under the closed roof on centre court.

Nadal, a four-time champion in Madrid, had an easier time in the second set after earning an early break, and closed out the match with another at the end.

“We had to hit very close to the line to win the points,” said Nadal, who is trying to win his third consecutive title after victories in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.

In another quarterfinal, Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay rallied to beat Alexander Zverev of Germany 3-6, 6-0, 6-4. Cuevas won one of the points of the tournament with a no-look winner with his back to the court after a lob shot by Zverev early in the second set.

Cuevas will play ninth-ranked Dominic Thiem of Austria, who comfortably defeated lucky loser Borna Coric of Croatia 6-1, 6-4. Coric eliminated top-ranked Andy Murray in the third round, while Thiem advanced by saving five match points in a win over Grigor Dimitrov.

The sixth-seeded Nishikori, a Madrid finalist in 2014, withdrew saying his wrist was “not 100 per cent” and he didn’t want to risk it.

Djokovic hasn’t played in the semifinals of any event since winning the title in Doha at the beginning of the year. He lost to Goffin in the quarterfinals in Monte Carlo, his first clay tournament of the season.

Nishikori, who beat Djokovic in the 2014 U.S. Open semifinals, was playing in his first tournament since March. He withdrew from the Barcelona Open last month because of the lingering wrist inflammation.

Nishikori said he will try to recover in time to play in Rome next week and then in the French Open at the end of the month.

“I cannot promise to play or pull out right now,” he said.

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