Nicolas Almagro did his best, winning more games than any of the king of clay's previous opponents here this year, but Rafael Nadal took another major stride towards a record seventh French Open title yesterday. The world No 2 has now not dropped a set in his first five matches and despite being below his best he was still too good for his fellow Spaniard. Nadal won 7-6, 6-2, 6-3 to earn a semi-final against David Ferrer.
Nadal and Almagro are both 26, both at their best on clay and both had reached the last eight without losing a set. However, that was where the similarities ended. Almagro, who had lost in his two previous Grand Slam quarter-finals, both of them here, is a flat-track bully who has won 12 titles – all of them on clay – at lesser events but has rarely looked capable of upsetting the biggest names on the biggest occasions. He has lost 24 of his 26 matches against top-five opponents and has never beaten Nadal in nine attempts.
Nevertheless, the No 12 seed went into the match on the back of eight successive victories – one fewer than his Davis Cup colleague – and with more clay-court wins under his belt this year (28) than any other player.
At least the first set was close. The first break point of the match, which Almagro saved with a smash, did not come until the 11th game. The tie-break, however, was all too predictable. Nadal won the first three points, went 4-0 up with a huge winning forehand after an exhausting 34-stroke rally and won the tie-break 7-4 after 62 minutes with a service winner.
In the second set Nadal made the first break of serve in the fourth game and survived the first break point against his own serve in the seventh. When Almagro served at 2-5 he was broken again as Nadal converted his first set point.
The third set was interrupted briefly by a rain stoppage, after which Almagro enjoyed one of his best spells of the match. Going for his shots, particularly on his forehand, the world No 13 forced two break points at 2-2, but Nadal held firm. Three games later, Almagro handed his opponent his final break with a double fault. Nadal went on to serve out for victory, which he completed with an ace after two hours and 46 minutes.
Victory in Sunday's final would establish Nadal as the most successful player ever at Roland Garros. The Spaniard is currently tied with Bjorn Borg on six French Open titles. He has lost only one match in his eight visits to these courts, having gone out in the fourth round to Sweden's Robin Soderling three years ago, when his knees were in such a state that he was forced to miss the subsequent grass-court season.
The world No 2 has lost only one match on clay since last year's French Open – to Fernando Verdasco on the controversial blue clay at last month's Madrid Masters – and has already won three titles this year on his favourite surface, in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome.
His first-round victory at Roland Garros this year – a 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 procession past Simone Bolelli of Italy – was his 150th win in a Grand Slam tournament. At 26 years and seven days he is the youngest man in history to have reached the milestone, 326 days ahead of Roger Federer, who is the second player on the list.
Britain's Kyle Edmund, meanwhile, reached the quarter-finals of the boys' singles by beating Italy's Gianluigi Quinzi, the second seed, 7-6, 1-6, 6-4. Edmund, 17, who won seven points in succession in the tie-break, has now reached the quarter-finals at three successive Grand Slam junior tournaments. His fellow Briton, Liam Broady, was beaten 6-2, 6-3 by Noah Rubin of the United States.