Spain’s Rafael Nadal came from behind against hard-hitting American Jack Sock on Friday to reach the China Open semi-finals, while Novak Djokovic showed no signs of losing his ominous form as he destroyed towering American number one John Isner to book his semifinal spot.
The Spanish great, scrapping to recover his form after a tough year, was frequently outgunned by the American’s howitzer forehand but he dug deep to see off the world number 30, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, to set up a rematch against his US Open conqueror Fabio Fognini of Italy.
In contrast, Djokovic brushed off the 6’10” Isner’s challenge 6-2, 6-2 to in a lightning 52 minutes to clock up his 27th straight victory at a tournament where he has never been beaten and has now won 23 sets in a row.
The lopsided defeat was almost embarrassing for the 13th-ranked Isner, clocking in a shade quicker than Djokovic’s similar straight-sets humiliation of China’s 219th-ranked Zhang Ze in the previous round.
“Yes, it was an important victory for me. Obviously I finished the match playing better than what I started. It’s important because I came back,” Nadal said. “This year I lost a lot of matches when I had an advantage. So to have the chance to win a match when I start losing this one, so it’s important for me, too.
Nadal’s last hardcourt semi-final was over 18 months ago, at the Miami Open last year. Moreover, the Spaniard had lost his last five hardcourt quarter-final encounters. Nadal will now play Fognini, who stunned him last month in the US Open third round and has a 3-1 record against the Spaniard this year, for a place in the title match.
“He’s a great player. When you play against a great player, especially if you don’t play to your best, your chances are lower,” Nadal said of the Italian, who beat Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas 6-1, 2-6, 6-2. “If I am able to play my best tomorrow... I am going to have my chances. If not, it’s going to be tough. It’s simple. Sport is simple.”
On a cold, bright day, Nadal paid for a slow start when he was broken in the first game. Sock’s big forehand kept Nadal under pressure throughout the set, which he ultimately yielded with a double-fault. But the 14-time Grand Slam-winner hit back by breaking first-up in the second set, and he gave a fist-pump of relief and satisfaction when he eventually levelled the match 6-4.
Unlike a lot of times this season, Nadal then found a way through the tough match, doing well on the forehand to break twice to take the set and the match.
Djokovic finished off Isner with a service winner on his first match point to move past Jimmy Connors and into sole second place for best unbeaten starts at a tournament, behind Nadal’s 31 at the French Open.
Next up for the seemingly unstoppable Serb, who won three out of four Grand Slam finals this year to reach 10 major titles, is Spain’s David Ferrer, who beat Taiwanese wildcard Lu Yen-hsun 6-3, 6-1.
In the women’s draw, Ana Ivanovic beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 7-5 to set up a semi-final with Timea Bacsinszky, who recovered from a first-set ‘bagel’ to beat Sara Errani 0-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Agnieszka Radwanska beat Angelique Kerber 6-1, 6-4 to go into a semi-final clash with the in-form Garbine Muguruza, who halted the run of American qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-1, 7-5.