Nadal’s Perfect Hard-Court Season Continues With U.S. Open Romp

Rafael Nadal’s perfect hard-court season continued last night at the U.S. Open, as the Spaniard advanced to the semifinals with a straight-set victory against Tommy Robredo, moving to 20-0 on the surface this year.

Nadal, 27, cruised to a 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 victory over his countryman, firing 28 winners without facing a single break point. In four hard-court tournaments this year, Nadal has three titles and has won 224 of 240 service games. He’s a perfect 67-for-67 in service games so far at the U.S. Open, the fourth and final Grand Slam of the tennis season.

“I think I played my best match here at the U.S. Open this year,” Nadal said in a televised interview after the match. “I’m very happy.”

Nadal set up a semifinal showdown against Richard Gasquet of France, who beat David Ferrer in five sets yesterday at the National Tennis Center in New York to secure his second career Grand Slam semifinal appearance. In the women’s draw, Victoria Azarenka and Flavia Pennetta advanced in straight sets and will meet in the semifinals tomorrow.

There are no women’s singles matches today as the men conclude quarterfinal play. Defending champion Andy Murray of the U.K. faces Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland this afternoon, while top-seeded Novak Djokovic of Serbia headlines the night session against Russian Mikhail Youzhny.

Bryan Brothers

Americans Mike and Bob Bryan, trying to become the first men’s doubles team since 1951 to win all four Grand Slams in a single season, also play today in the semifinals.

Gasquet beat fourth-seeded Ferrer of Spain 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3 in 3 hours, 23 minutes, becoming the first Frenchman in 14 years to reach the U.S. Open semifinals. His only other appearance in the final four at a Grand Slam was in 2007 at Wimbledon, where he fell to eventual champion Roger Federer.

While Gasquet is winless in 10 ATP Tour meetings against Nadal, he remembers beating the Spaniard 14 years ago at a junior tournament in Tarbes, France. A video of the match’s conclusion on the video-sharing website YouTube shows Gasquet clinching the deciding third set 6-4 with a forehand winner.

“I told my father after, ‘He’s a big fighter,’” Gasquet said yesterday, remembering the match. “I didn’t lie. I was true. In the future this one is biggest players in the world in the history.”

Nadal, who has a winning record against every player in the top 30, said yesterday that the 1999 loss in Tarbes came at one of his first international tournaments.

“Richard was amazing in that moment,” he said. “It was a great battle for me.”

Hard-Court Titles

A 12-time Grand Slam singles champion and No. 2 seed at the U.S. Open behind Djokovic, Nadal has hard-court titles already this year in Indian Wells, California; Montreal, and Cincinnati. His perfect record includes six wins over players ranked in the top seven in the world, with two coming against Federer, a five-time U.S. Open champion.

The hard-court success also propelled Nadal to the top of the U.S. Open Series standings, meaning he will receive an additional bonus depending on his finish at the Open. If he wins his second U.S. Open title next week, for example, he’ll receive $1 million on top of the winner’s share of $2.6 million.

Azarenka Advances

Azarenka beat Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia 6-2, 6-3 to advance to her seventh Grand Slam semifinal. The 24-year-old Belarusian and two-time Australian Open champion lost to Serena Williams last year in the U.S. Open final.

Azarenka said yesterday that her strong play was a product of increased fitness training following injuries this year to her right knee and back.

“I came back on another fitness level,” she told reporters yesterday. “I feel like I have heavier shots now.”

Pennetta, who did not play last year due to a wrist injury, dispatched friend and compatriot Roberta Vinci 6-4, 6-1 yesterday in 65 minutes. Pennetta, 31, is the second Italian woman in as many years to make the semifinals, after Vinci last year became the first in 83 years to achieve the feat.

It’s Pennetta’s first career Grand Slam semifinal after making three previous U.S. Open quarterfinals. She has never advanced past the fourth round of any other major.

“I’m proud of me now,” Pennetta told reporters. “I’m 31, and physically I feel good finally. I’m in the first semifinal in Grand Slam. There is nothing to say more.”

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