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Nadal Keeps Heat On Djokovic With Comeback Win

Beijing, China

Nadal© GettyRafael Nadal is one win away from reclaiming the No. 1 spot.

Rafael Nadal is one win away from returning to World No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings after a dramatic comeback win on Friday in the China Open quarter-finals. Nadal was one point away from trailing Fabio Fognini 2-6, 1-5, but fought back to beat the Italian 2-6, 6-4, 6-1 to reach the semi-finals in Beijing.

If Nadal wins his semi-final against Tomas Berdych, he will return to World No. 1 for the first time since 3rd July 2011. Should Nadal lose before the final, Novak Djokovic must still win his fourth China Open crown to stay at the top for a 102nd week.

"It's something that doesn't create more pressure for me," said Nadal. "It's something that already happened in the past. If that happens again, it will be good, it will be special for me, but we'll see. 

"I am going to have a very tough opponent in front of me. In the end, it's another match. True, it's a little bit more special for the circumstances, but nothing else. It's the semi-final match of a big tournament, I am going to try to be competitive and try to play my best tennis. If not, I am going to have no chance to be through. It is not the moment to think about No. 1; it is the moment to think about Berdych."

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For a set and a half, Fognini produced a stunning display. The Italian raced to a 5-1 lead in the first set with a barrage of ground strokes that Nadal had no answer for. Nadal kept battling and regained one of the breaks, but Fognini broke in the next game with a forehand winner to take the set.

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Nadal quickly found himself in trouble in the second set. The Spaniard trailed 0-3, 15/40, but held his serve to keep the pressure on Fognini, who went into the match with a 3-24 record against Top 10 opponents. Nadal saved a break point in the sixth game, which would have seen Fognini serve for the match at 5-1, and his perseverance paid off in the following game as he converted his sixth break point to break back. As Fognini blinked, Nadal capitalised and reeled off five games in a row to level the match.

Nadal broke serve to love in the third game of the decider and ran with the momentum, benefitting from a Fognini double fault to take a 4-1 lead. He broke Fognini again to close out victory in two hours and 15 minutes.

"If you lose the second break you are dead," said Nadal, reflecting on the break point he faced down 1-4 in the second set. "If you are only one break away, at the end of the match pressure is there, nerves are there. You try to put one more ball inside, try to find a little bit more, play a little bit more, and probably you are going to have the chance. Converting the chance or not is another [matter].

"[After I broke] I played better. It's true that his level of tennis for a long time in the match was very, very high. When you are playing against an opponent playing well, the thing that you have to do is try to push him to the limit and try to make him play very well for a very, very long time. That's something that I was not doing for the first set and a half.  

"Then the situation changed a little bit. I played a little bit better, played with a little bit more rhythm, and he felt that he needed to play another shot to win the point. But it was too late. I was very lucky."

The 27-year-old Nadal is looking to win his 11th title of the season. In 13 tournaments, he has only failed to reach the final once, losing in the first round at Wimbledon (l. to Darcis). His triumphs include Roland Garros, the US Open and five ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophies. The Mallorcan triumphed in Beijing on his 2005 debut (d. Coria).

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