Washington: Former world number three David Nalbandian, who has missed the past six Grand Slam events with injuries, has reached his first ATP semi-final in 18 months at the Washington Classic.
The 117th-ranked Argentine rallied to oust Frenchman Gilles Simon 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 and will play for a spot in Sunday`s hardcourt final against Croatian fourth seed Marin Cilic, who beat Serbian Janko Tipsarevic 7-6 (7/4), 6-4.
Nalbandian was sidelined nine months after hip surgery, made a brief return early this year, then missed two months with a sore hamstring before returning in July to help Argentina advance to the Davis Cup semi-finals.
"I feel good," Nalbandian said. "I will just try to keep believing in my game and play the best I can."
The other semi-final pits Belgium`s 62nd-ranked Xavier Malisse, who upset Czech top seed Tomas Berdych 6-4, 3-6, 6-2, against Cypriot eighth seed Marcos Baghdatis, who eliminated Spanish third seed Fernando Verdasco 7-6 (7/3), 6-4.
Nalbandian, the 2002 Wimbledon runner-up, has not played in a Grand Slam event since losing in the second round of last year`s Australian Open to Taiwan`s Lu Yen-Hsun.
The 28-year-old South American, playing his first ATP event since April this week, reached his first semi-final since February of last year at Buenos Aires. He last won an ATP title the month before that in Sydney but is on a roll now.
"During practice I know I can go far," he said. "Without playing matches, it`s tough to know how far you can go."
Both Nalbandian and Simon, who missed nearly three months this year with a right knee injury, sprayed unforced errors throughout the match and five of 12 12 service break in the match came in the last set.
After an early exchange, Nalbandian broke again on his third chance of the sixth game, surrendered his next serve with a forehand beyond long, broke in five points to 5-3 when Simon netted a forehand and then held for the victory.
"In the second set, I started hitting better balls and he went down a little bit," Nalbandian said. "I trid to push it and play more offensive and it worked out."
Eighth-ranked Berdych struggled in his first event since losing his first Grand Slam final to Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon, unable to capitalize on being an ATP top seed for the first time.
Berdych sent a backhand long to hand Malisse a break in the fourth game of the third set and the Belgian broke again in the last game, Berdych hitting a backhand long to end the match after two hours and 10 minutes.
"The third set is one of the best sets I`ve played," Malisse said. "I hit the ball hard and won a lot of points with my serve."
Berdych, who has yet to win a title this year, blamed the loss on starting only 10 hours after finally getting to sleep following a Thursday rain delay.
"In the first set I felt like I was still sleeping," he said. "I was not 100 percent ready and that`s disappointing. I wanted to play better."
Berdych was unhappy at filling a scheduled mid-day television slot.
"This is a pretty bad experience for a tournament where I`m first seeded. I thought I could get some better times with a No. 1 seed," Berdych said.
"It`s the reason I`m not going to be here next year."
Malisse, seeking his first ATP title since 2007, dismissed fatigue as a factor.
"We finished about the same time," Malisse said. "For both it was the same."