Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are only one win away from the 39th meeting of their careers – but the world’s top two were made to work hard before booking their places in the semi-finals of the Shanghai Rolex Masters here yesterday.
Nadal saved three set points before overcoming Stanislas Wawrinka 7-6, 6-1, while Djokovic had to come from behind to beat Gaël Monfils 6-7, 6-2, 6-4.
In today’s semi-finals Nadal will meet Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro, who beat Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 6-3, while Djokovic will face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who beat Florian Mayer 6-2, 6-3.
Wawrinka has been one of the year’s most improved players, but the world No 8 has yet to win a set in 11 matches against Nadal.
The Swiss went desperately close to breaking that duck, but Nadal saved a set point serving at 5-6 and then two more in a 21-minute tie-break.
At 10-10 Nadal hit a brilliant drop-shot winner to create a fourth set point of his own, which he converted with a fine volley. The outcome seemed to suck the spirit out of Wawrinka, who lost the second set in quick time.
Monfils, who had knocked out Roger Federer in the previous round, played a splendid first set, winning the tie-break 7-4.
However, the Frenchman needed treatment for a stomach injury in the second set as Djokovic fought back, eventually securing victory after two hours and 23 minutes.
The Serb, who blamed his poor start on erratic serving, said: “It was a very physical match and very intense. We played many rallies.
“I knew coming into the match he was going to run for every ball and he was going to make me play extra shots.
“I was surprised by the balls he got back. He always made it – I’m glad I got through.’
Jamie Murray and John Peers kept up their fine run by reaching the semi-finals on their Masters Series debut as a doubles team.
The Scot and the Aussie, runners-up in Tokyo last week on their first appearance at a World Tour 500 event, beat Robert Lindstedt and Vasek Pospisil 3-6, 6-3, 10-6 and now play Spaniards David Marrero and Fernando Verdasco.
A place in the eight-team field at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals could still be within their reach.