Nadal overcomes Swiss test, leads Spanish charge

ROME, (Reuters) – Rafael Nadal showed his ruthless  streak to overcome an early test from Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka  in a 6-4 6-1 win yesterday and helped Spain to secure three of  the four semi-final spots at the Rome Masters.

Fernando Verdasco beat world number two Novak Djokovic for  the second time in two weeks when he clinched an enthralling  tussle 7-6 3-6 6-4 to set up a semi-final against compatriot  David Ferrer.

Nadal, aiming for his fifth Rome title in six years, next  faces Ernests Gulbis, who prevented a Spanish clean sweep of the  last four by sinking Feliciano Lopez 7-6 6-1. The Latvian  continued his run of form after ejecting world number one Roger  Federer earlier in the week.

Former world number one Nadal has been a supreme force on  red dirt this season after an injury-hit 2009, but he made a  slow start yesterday.

He was bossed around in several rallies as he struggled to  hold the early service games but finally found his range to  break Wawrinka’s resistance at the end of the set.

He had to repel another strong attack on his serve in the  first game of the second set before breaking in the next game  with an outstanding forehand winner and then ran away with the  encounter.

“In the first set I was in trouble for a long time,” Nadal  told a news conference. “He was winning his service games much  easier than me.

“At 5-4 (in the first set) I started playing better and  after that I played really well. I played well today but I was  better in Monte Carlo.”

Djokovic was thrashed by in-form sixth seed Verdasco in the  semi-finals at Monte Carlo in their last meeting and yesterday’s  match looked like it might follow a similar plot early on.

The Serb was under constant pressure, slamming his racket  down in frustration after being pushed around in a rally before  caving in on serve in the seventh game.

Djokovic, the 2008 Rome champion, responded bravely though,  breaking when Verdasco was serving for the set. The pair traded  breaks again before the Spaniard took the set in the tiebreak.

Djokovic did not panic and read his opponent’s meaty serve  skilfully in the second set to break three times to one and  claim it.

ALLERGY

PROBLEMS

But Verdasco had a little more in the tank, even though he  has played a lot of tennis recently after winning last week’s  Barcelona Open, and prevailed with an ace after three hours and  17 minutes of big-hitting action.

The Serb said he has been hindered by health problems  recently but was confident he would be one of the main  contenders for the French Open, which begins next month.

“I’ve had real problems with allergies for the past two  months and this has been really troubling,” he said.

“But everything else is in order and I’m happy with the way  I played, so definitely the French Open is the place where I  want to get a good result.

“I was very close to victory and I know that this match  could have gone either way.”

Ferrer made light work of Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga,  triumphing 6-4 6-1 to book his place in the semis after knocking  out Britain’s world number five Andy Murray on Thursday.

Federer was knocked out of the doubles in the quarter-finals  along with compatriot Yves Allegro by American pair John Isner  and Sam Querrey, 6-4 6-4.

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