RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Top-seeded Rafael Nadal reached the semifinals of the Rio Open, showing no problems with a sore back in defeating Joao Sousa of Portugal 6-1, 6-0 on Friday.
No. 1-ranked Nadal, in his first tournament since losing the Australian Open final, played his best match in Brazil and will face fellow Spaniard Pablo Andujar in the semifinals. Andjuar ripped through Tommy Robredo of Spain 6-1, 6-1.
In the other semifinal, second-seeded David Ferrer will meet unseeded Alexandr Dolgopolov. Ferrer defeated Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 and Dolgopolov of Ukraine advanced against third-seeded Fabio Fognini 6-1, 6-1.
Ferrer has won 21 ATP singles title and will be the favorite to reach the final on Sunday against Nadal with 61 titles including 13 Grand Slams.
"I think I have improved in everything," Nadal said. "I think I played a complete match. I had my best game of the tournament, and not just that but I played at a very high level. Really, I did things I wasn't able to do a few days ago. I moved better. I was more intense, more aggressive."
Asked about the back, Nadal backed off.
"We're not going to talk every day about the back," he said. "I'm in the semifinals."
Nadal tweaked his back warming up for the final in Melbourne, eventually losing to Stanislas Wawrinka in a match he was favoured to win. He took several weeks off and is using Rio to tune up for three months of clay-court play leading to the French Open.
Ferrer and Bellucci had to wait for more than an hour with the Spaniard leading 2-1 in the third set when the lights went out at the outdoor stadium.
"It was really tough," Ferrer said. "When the match was stopped it was practically in my hands. It was bad luck with what happened with the lights."