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Tennis | ATP

Nadal subdues inspired Dimitrov



Eight-time champion Rafael Nadal was taken to the brink by improving Bulgarian prospect Grigor Dimitrov before completing a 6-2 2-6 6-4 victory on Friday to reach the Monte Carlo Masters semifinals.

Nadal, who made an unusual number of errors and looked uncomfortable throughout against his 21-year-old opponent, slowly ground him down and fired an ace to clinch his 45th successive victory at the first big claycourt event of the season.

The Spaniard now has a 47-1 win-loss record at the glamorous venue and will next face Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who beat Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka 2-6 6-3 6-4 on the picturesque Centre Court to reach the last four for the first time.

World No 1 Novak Djokovic was not bothered by his sprained ankle as he moved past Finland's Jarkko Nieminen 6-4 6-3 to clinch a meeting with Fabio Fognini.

The 32nd-ranked Italian made his first significant breakthrough in a Masters Series event by stunning seventh seed Richard Gasquet 7-6 6-2.

The straight-laced crowd, for once reluctant to support Nadal with Dimitrov threatening to pull off a shock win, stood up to cheer the 34th-ranked Bulgarian as he left the court after a thrilling performance.

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Nadal had his share of applause after keeping his bid for a ninth consecutive crown alive by the Mediterranean, where he is coming back from a month-long break after winning three titles including the Indian Wells Masters following seven months out with injury.

"I had a fantastic first set and that's important. That means my level is here," Nadal told a news conference.

"I am losing a bit of intensity at some moments. That's normal after a long time out of competition," added the Spaniard.

DJOKOVIC IMPROVES

Tsonga had opened the chilly grey day, with the sun hidden by the clouds and a cool breeze refreshing the sparse crowd, by winning a fierce battle against Wawrinka.

Both players started brightly, with a solid Wawrinka looking on course to repeat the superb third-round performance which knocked out world No 2 Andy Murray.

However, Tsonga's aggression paid off with the Swiss-based Frenchman making the most of his break chances to overcome his occasional training partner.

Tsonga, who had not reached the last four in a Masters series event since his 2011 home triumph at the Paris Open, saw himself as the underdog ahead of the semifinal with Nadal.

"It's a incredible challenge. If I win, I'll be a hero. If I lose, I'll just go back home like everybody else," he said.

Italian Fognini, who lives just across the border and said he felt "at home" in Monaco, produced a fine performance with his dropshots and deep spinning forehands troubling France's Gasquet.

The stands started to empty after he secured his victory and he will need his status as a fans' favourite when he faces Djokovic, who moved far better on the clay than he did in the first two rounds when he had to recover from a set down.

Last year's runner-up Djokovic, who picked up a ankle injury while on Davis Cup duty with Serbia less than two weeks ago, was pleased by his physical improvement.

"It's a great step forward for me," he said.

"I did not have the feeling that the ankle was bothering me, I was very solid. I elevated the level of my game in the past two matches, definitely," he added while a rainbow shone in the light rain falling over Centre Court.

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