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Nadal Grinds Out Win; Murray, Ancic To Clash

Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Rafael Nadal© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal

World No. 1 Rafael Nadal (pictured) came through a third successive three-set battle to book his place in the semi-finals of the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. The top seed withstood 26 aces from Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to prevail 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-4 at the ATP World Tour 500 tennis tournament on Friday evening.

After one break of serve earned Nadal the first set, the Spaniard created chances to move ahead in the second set. However, Tsonga saved both break points he faced before rallying from a 0-2 deficit in the tie-break to take it 7-5 with a second serve ace – his 17th of the set. Breaks were exchanged early in the third set as Nadal squandered a 2-0 lead, but it was the Majorcan who sealed victory after two hours and 40 minutes when Tsonga double faulted to hand him his first match point at 4-5 and he was quick to convert as Tsonga missed a backhand.

The 21-year-old Nadal was also stretched to three sets in his first two matches against Italian Simone Bolelli and 17-year-old Bulgarian wild card Grigor Dimitrov. The left-hander is playing his first event since winning his sixth Grand Slam championship at the Australian Open in Melbourne with back-to-back five-set victories over Fernando Verdasco and Roger Federer. He improves to a 12-1 match record on the season.

On Saturday he will face fifth seed Gael Monfils, who defeated Julien Benneteau 7-6(4), 6-1 in an all-French quarter-final. Monfils handed Nadal his only loss thus far of the 2009 ATP World Tour tennis season, posting a quarter-final win at the ATP World Tour 250 tennis tournament in Doha in the first week of the year. The Spaniard had won their first three meetings in straight sets.

The 22-year-old Monfils is playing in his first ATP World Tour event since reaching a career-high ranking of No. 12 on February 2. In addition to a semi-final effort in Doha (l. to Roddick), the Frenchman made his best showing at the Australian Open with a fourth round result before retiring with a wrist injury against Gilles Simon. Last season, Monfils finished in the Top 20 for the first time by reaching his first Grand Slam semi-final at Roland Garros (l. to Federer) and his sixth ATP World Tour final at VIenna (l. to Petzschner).

Croatian Mario Ancic continued his good run of form by defeating 2007 champion Mikhail Youzhny 6-4, 6-2. The 28th-ranked Ancic broke once in the seventh game of the first set to assume a one-set lead and two breaks in the first and fifth games of the second set sufficed for him to claim victory after one hour and 40 minutes. The right-hander served nine aces and saved all seven break points he faced in the pair’s second encounter (1-1 head-to-head).

The 24-year-old Ancic, who upset fourth seed Gilles Simon in the second round on Thursday, advanced to his 11th ATP World Tour final (3-8 record) in Zagreb last week – where he lost to Marin Cilic in the first all-Croatian final on the ATP World Tour since 1990 Umag. The Split native also made a quarter-final exit at Sydney (l. to No. 3 Djokovic) in the second week of the season.

World No. 62 Youzhny won one of his four ATP World Tour titles at Rotterdam in 2007 with victory over Ivan Ljubicic. The Russian drops to a 3-4 match record for the season.

Ancic will face Andy Murray in the semi-finals after the second seed advanced when lucky loser Marc Gicquel retired with a left groin injury with Murray leading 7-6(2), 4-6, 3-0.

In a highly competitive encounter, Gicquel had kept World No. 4 Murray at bay with a fine serving display in the first set and was only denied in a tie-break, when errors proved costly for the Frenchman. Despite much attacking tennis, neither man could earn a breakthrough until the ninth game of the second set when - despite suffering a leg groin injury in the first point - Gicquel persevered and was rewarded with two straight games to level the match. However, the injury proved too much for the 31-year-old to cope with in the third set and after going a double break down he conceded the match.

The 21-year-old Murray of Great Britain now improves to an 11-1 match record on the season. The Scot opened his campaign by winning his ninth ATP World Tour title at Doha (d. Federer in SF, Roddick in F) but at the Australian Open the pre-tournament favourite suffered a fourth round loss to Fernando Verdasco. The Dunblane native will look to reach his 15th ATP World Tour final – and his first in Rotterdam - when he takes on Ancic, whom he has only defeated once before in four matches.

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