The Australian Open did not quite go to plan for the world number three player, Rafael Nadal this year in Melbourne, but the Spaniard seems to be gathering momentum and focus once more as he seeks to defend his crown at the Rio Open. Nadal had to battle back in his quarter-final from a set down to Pablo Cuevas, no doubt feeling the effects of a later than expected start to the match, before finally finding his true form to bagel his opponent in the decisive third set and move through to a semi-final match-up with Fabio Fognini.
The 14-time Grand Slam champion, who will no doubt be eagerly eying up the possibility of another French Open triumph this year, has opened up his clay-court season in Rio de Janeiro and only finished his quarter-final match against the Uruguayan at 3:21am local time.
The late / early finish resulted from the desire by the organisers to hold all of the top matches on the centre court, and as all of them went to three sets, play went on rather longer than originally expected.
Nadal also had the toughest match of the tournament so far on his hands against Cuevas, losing the first set 6-4 at the Jockey Club Brasileiro. He demonstrated his usual resilience though to fight back and take the close second set 7-5, which seemed to break the spirit of his opponent as Nadal then raced through the third set 6-0.
He will now face the Italian Fognini, who will no doubt be feeling the after effects from his titanic struggle in the quarter-finals, eventually coming through 6-4 6-7 7-6 against the Argentinian Federico Delbonis. Both tie-breaks were extremely close and tense, as Delbonis took the first one 12-10, but went down 11-9 in the second one, to drop out of the tournament.
The final could yet be an all-Spanish affair, after second seed David Ferrer clinched his semi-final spot by overcoming another Argentinian, Juan Monaco in yet another three-setter.