MADRID (AP) — Defending champion Rafael Nadal gave his clay-court doldrums a boost by reaching the Madrid Open semifinals on Friday with a dominant performance against Thomas Berdych.
In the women's tournament, two-time defending champion Serena Williams withdrew with a leg injury, while Maria Sharapova ousted Li Na in the quarterfinals.
The top-ranked Nadal had lost his previous two quarterfinal matches on clay for his worst run on the surface in a decade. But buoyed on by a partisan crowd, Nadal overpowered Berdych 6-4, 6-2 to advance at the Magic Box.
"I brought great energy and intensity to it and that's the best news, that it's my best (on clay) yet," Nadal said. "The things that, historically, I've done well on this surface I managed to do them again today."
Nadal has been improving with every match in Madrid after losing at the quarterfinals stage in preceding tournaments in Monte Carlo and Barcelona.
But he showed no sign of the nerves that had uncharacteristically crept into the game of the most successful clay-court player ever as he pushed Berdych to the corners and punished him with a powerful forehand that accounted for 16 of his winners.
"My play is good when I'm hitting my forehand well, especially on clay," said Nadal, who is vying for his third title in the Spanish capital. "In Monte Carlo I used my backhand more and not my forehand, and when I have to hit five or six backhands in a row it doesn't help my game."
Berdych, who dropped to 3-18 against Nadal, couldn't keep up in the hot sun beating down on Manolo Santana center court.
Nadal faces countryman Roberto Bautista Agut after the 45th-ranked player beat Colombia's Santiago Giraldo 6-3, 6-4. David Ferrer followed Bautista Agut's victory with a 7-6 (3), 6-3 win over Ernests Gulbis to become the third Spaniard in the semis.
Kei Nishikori prevented an all-Spanish lineup in the final four by beating Feliciano Lopez 6-4, 6-4 in the late match. The win also ensures that he will become the first Japanese player to break into the top 10 when the new world rankings are released on Monday. Nishikori remained undefeated on clay this season in nine matches after winning the Barcelona Open title.