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Nadal Survives Dimitrov Scare, Faces Tsonga In Semis

Monte-Carlo, Monaco

Nadal© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal passed a stern test against Grigor Dimitrov.

Rafael Nadal survived one of his biggest scares in nine years at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters on Friday, beating Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 in two hours and eight minutes to reach the semi-finals.

"I know that when you have these tough matches, it is decisive to keep fighting," said Nadal. "If you keep fighting, you will lose some ones, but you will have a chance to win a lot of ones, too. 

"I gave that fight. Finally he had his chance, and I had my one, and I converted. That's it. I think I played better the last couple of games. Obviously I'm trying to find better rhythm all the time. In my opinion, I did it in the end. It was great."

The 26-year-old Nadal, the eight-time defending champion at the Monte-Carlo Country Club, had only lost six sets at this ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament since winning the title for the first time in 2005. He was stretched the distance by the 21-year-old Dimitrov, who cut a composed and confident figure as he dictated play for large periods of the second and third sets.

Cramp proved the undoing of Dimitrov, though. The right-hander was struck by cramp in his left thigh in the ninth game of the deciding set and Nadal seized his chance. The Spaniard, who had struggled with timing and a spate of unforced errors, reined in his game and broke Dimitrov for a 5-4 lead as the Bulgarian sliced a backhand into the net. Nadal then served out the victory, closing on his second match point with an ace.

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"It's a tough loss," said Dimitrov. "Of course, I think I gave everything I had today. I must say, all the credit to him. He's an extraordinary player, extraordinary fighter. Today he obviously showed why he's the best not only on that surface, I believe, but he's one of the best out there. 

"Even though I lost the first set, I didn't lose my composure on court, and that helped me win the second. Eventually when the third started, I felt quite comfortable playing. I actually started rallying with him much more from the baseline, which I think I shouldn't have done that too much. It's a good lesson to learn." 

Nadal is chasing his fourth title in five tournaments this season, having triumphed in Sao Paulo (d. Nalbandian), Acapulco (d. Ferrer) and Indian Wells (d. del Potro) before arriving in Monte-Carlo. He returned from a seven-month injury lay-off in February by reaching the final in Vina del Mar (l. to Zeballos) and has a 20-1 match record on the season.

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For a place in the final, Nadal will face French No. 1 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who battled past Andy Murray’s conqueror, Stanislas Wawrinka 2-6, 6-3, 6-4. Nadal leads their head-to-head 7-3. 

Tsonga"It was a fantastic victory for Jo because Wawrinka is a very dangerous and complete player," said Nadal. "He came to this match playing very well. That's a lot of confidence for him, too. We'll see. I have to play aggressive. I have to play my game. If I am playing at the level I played the first set [today], I really hope that I will have chances."

“It's an incredible challenge,” said Tsonga. “He won eight times here. Anything I might achieve will be just a bonus for me. I have no longer any pain in my legs because I know I'm going to play a player that's a lot better than I am on clay. But I do have some weapons. I have everything to win and nothing to lose.”

Tsonga, who turned 28 on Wednesday, is through to his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semi-final since November 2011, when he finished runner-up at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris (l. to Federer). The Le Mans native is chasing his second title of the season, following victory on home soil in Marseille in February (d. Berdych).

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