VINA DEL MAR, Chile — Rafael Nadal won his first of two matches Friday in a test of his sore left knee, defeating fellow Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver 6-1, 6-4 to reach the semifinals of the VTR Open.
Nadal had not played for seven months until he took the court earlier this week in the Pacific coastal resort city. With a doubles match set for later Friday, Nadal will have played five matches in four days. He’s yet to lose a set.
If he wins in doubles, he’ll play two more matches Saturday — the doubles final and a singles semifinal.
Nadal and Juan Monaco faced Argentines Carlos Berlocq and Leonardo Mayer later in doubles, and Nadal plays either Jeremy Chardy or Paolo Lorenzi in the semifinals Saturday.
The Spaniard’s goal is to get back to the top and challenge the other three of tennis’ Big Four: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray.
Nadal took the court Friday with temperatures hovering around 85 degrees in the middle of the South American summer. He is likely to encounter similar temperatures when he plays next week in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and later this month in Acapulco, Mexico.
He had no trouble in the first set. In the sixth game he chased down several shots without seeming to fear for his knee. The second set was tougher, but Nadal showed the victory really mattered when he clenched his left fist on a winning passing shot in the ninth game as he broke Gimeno-Traver to lead 5-4.
Nadal has said he’s not focused on results as he uses the Latin American clay-court events to hone his game. Nadal will turn 27 in the middle of the French Open.
Cilic, Youzhny reach semis: In Zagreb, Croatia, top-seeded Marin Cilic of Croatia ousted Blaz Kavcic 6-3, 7-6 (5) to set up a Zagreb Indoors semifinal against defending champion Mikhail Youzhny of Russia.
Earlier, fourth-seeded Jurgen Melzer of Austria earned the 300th tour win of his career and will play Robin Haase of the Netherlands in the other semifinal.
Cilic is a two-time winner in his home event but missed last year’s tournament with an injury. He broke Kavcic twice in the opening set and then traded breaks with the Slovenian in the second before prevailing in the tiebreaker.
Youzhny, seeded third, reached the semifinals of the event for the third time by defeating Croatia’s Ivan Dodig 6-3, 6-2 after never facing a break point. Youzhny broke for a 4-2 lead in the first set and then raced ahead 4-0 in the second.
Melzer defeated Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals. Haase ousted Philipp Petzschner of Germany 6-4, 3-6, 6-0.
Gasquet, Nieminen WIN: In Montpellier, France, Richard Gasquet of France beat ailing countryman Julien Benneteau 6-1, 4-6, 6-1 at the Open Sud de France on Friday to reach his second semifinal of the season.
Gasquet, seeded third, will next play Jarkko Nieminen of Finland, who advanced to the last four with a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2) victory over Sergiy Stakhovsky of Ukraine.
Benneteau, seeded sixth, needed treatment on his back early in the third set and was clearly impeded afterward. He barely moved in trying to reach Gasquet’s passing shot down the line on match point.
Michael Llodra and eighth-seeded Benoit Paire also won quarterfinals and will meet in Saturday’s other semifinal to guarantee a French finalist.
Llodra hit 11 aces in a 7-6 (3), 6-1 win against Jan Hajek of the Czech Republic, sealing the victory with a volley at the net. Paire beat fourth-seeded Gilles Simon 7-5, 7-6 (4) in another all-French match.
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