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Nadal Holds Off Federer For Final Berth

Madrid, Spain

Rafael Nadal© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal celebrates his second successive victory over Roger Federer.

He was pushed close by Roger Federer, but World No. 1 Rafael Nadal remains unbeaten on clay in 37 successive matches after holding off his Swiss rival to prevail 5-7, 6-1, 6-3 on Saturday in the semi-finals of the Mutua Madrid Open.

"I don’t think it was our best match for either of us, I think we both made some errors, more than usual," reflected Nadal. "The difference between the good players and the best ones is that when you play badly you win; that is what the best players do. I think that at moments Roger played very aggressive and great tennis and in other moments he had more mistakes than usual. So the match was a little bit up and down, but for sure it’s always a special match against each other. It’s a pleasure to play against him – always an honour."

The Spaniard lost the first set for just the second time in his past 37 clay-court matches, but rebounded strongly to record his second win in two meetings with Federer this season. Victory from behind also reversed the trend in the Federer-Nadal rivalry that had seen the winner of the first set go on to win their past 12 clashes.

The 29-year-old Federer was hoping to be the player to snap a Nadal clay-court winning streak for the third time, having ended the Spaniard’s 81-match winning run in Hamburg in 2007 and halting him on 33 successive clay wins in the 2009 Madrid final. Nadal’s last loss on a clay court came at the hands of Sweden’s Robin Soderling in the 2009 Roland Garros fourth round. In that time he has lost just four sets.

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The 24-year-old Nadal will now look to win the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown in Madrid for a third time, after success in 2005 over Ivan Ljubicic and against Federer last year. The Spaniard will come up against World No. 2 Novak Djokovic in the final.

"For me to start the clay season with two victories and now a final in the third tournament, which may be less favorable for me, is a very good result," said Nadal. "I have to make the extra effort and tomorrow will be an important match. The fact that I am playing at home is special and well its another final at an [ATP World Tour] Masters 1000 [tournament] and I will fight until the end.

"I've got the illusion of winning, of playing a good game, the illusion of being competitive, as I always do when I go out to win a match. I'm very much aware that in the last two finals against him I lost and maybe the conditions suit him a bit more now because of that. Here I think the conditions here are a bit more in his favour. I plan to accept this and all the difficulties that will surely be there and accept that this is going to be a very complicated match that I could lose even playing well."

There was a sombre mood around the Manolo Santana Court prior to the first semi-final match, as a tribute to Spanish golfing legend Seve Ballesteros, who passed away in the early hours of Saturday morning, visibly moved Nadal to tears.

The Mallorcan quickly composed himself, though, and raced to a break advantage aided by an early spate of unforced errors from Federer. However, the Swiss settled into his game mid-set and his controlled aggression paid dividends in the eighth game as he broke Nadal to draw level at 4-4. Federer then recovered from a 0/40 deficit in the 11th game before stealing a one-set lead by breaking Nadal in the following game.

The reigning champion’s response was immediate. Nadal raised his level and to Federer’s frustration, broke the Swiss in his first game of the second set as he opened up a 3-0 lead. Having lost the momentum, Federer reverted to yielding too many errors and paid the price as an improved Nadal levelled the match, having committed just three unforced errors to Federer’s 16.

The No. 3-ranked Federer had the opportunity to strike first in the decider, but sprayed a backhand long as Nadal held on to lead 2-1. The Swiss was made to rue his missed chance immediately as Nadal then broke through in the fourth game for a 3-1 advantage.

Federer had the crowd at the Caja Magica on the edge of their seats as he engineered a late fight back in the ninth game, winning a 20-shot rally to earn break-back point as Nadal served for the match. But the Basel native dumped a backhand return in the net and the reprieved Nadal went on to claim victory in two hours and 36 minutes.

FedererNadal is through to his fifth successive ATP World Tour final. After returning from an injury lay-off post the Australian Open, the left-hander reached back-to-back finals at Indian Wells and Miami, losing out to Djokovic on both occasions. He then opened his European clay-court campaign with a seventh successive title at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters before winning a sixth Barcelona crown, defeating countryman David Ferrer both times. He improved to a 32-4 match record on the season.

Federer was looking to reach his third final of the season, having won his 67th tour-level title in Doha (d. Davydenko) and finished runner-up in Dubai (l. to Djokovic). The Basel native dropped to a 27-6 season mark.  

"I thought Rafa played well and me too at times so it was a good match," said Federer. "It was it a good first set and even the second set at 6-1 doesn’t tell the truth and the third as well. I felt it was very close. Maybe the result doesn’t show as much but I thought I was right here.

"I think overall I played okay, I played the right way and at times it all worked and sometimes it didn’t just because of Rafa’s high level of play. He plays from start to finish on clay really solid and that was to be expected."

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