Monte Carlo: Rafael Nadal survived one of his toughest claycourt tests to squeeze out a dramatic 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 win over highly-rated Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-finals of the Monte Carlo Masters on Friday.
The Spaniard, who has not lost in the principality since 2003, was reluctant to talk about taping on his back, evidence of the wear and tear his return to his beloved clay may be taking after he missed seven months of play with knee problems.
"I`m happy to be in the semi-finals, I played the best with what I had. It`s normal to have problems on the back, on the shoulder, on the elbow," was the extent of the eight-time champions` comments.
Top seed Novak Djokovic fought through his own physical problems as he won his third match of the week on his injured, but healing, right ankle with the Serb beating Jarkko Nieminen 6-4, 6-3 to advance into the final four.
"My ankle is getting better and better," said the Serb.
"The pain is subsiding and that is very important for me. I just hope to play a good match tomorrow."
Djokovic broke late in the first set and started the second with a break as he got past the Finn who had seen off Juan Martin del Potro a day earlier.
Nadal, bidding for an unprecedented ninth straight trophy in Monte Carlo, was given a huge fright by Dimitrov, who fell victim to leg cramp in the closing moments of a thriller lasting just over two hours.
One of the closest calls of Nadal`s clay career ended with his 45th straight Monte Carlo win. Nadal lost a set in the event for only the third time since 2009.
"I didn`t play tennis for seven months. I`m losing little bit of intensity," said the Spaniard.
"That`s normal after being outside of the competition for a long time. I played for a month, then I stopped for another month. I need time to play with top rhythm all the match.
"I was playing great in the first set, playing my best level. So that`s the most important thing."
Dimitrov, feeling his left thigh, managed to save a Nadal match point with a rifling winner down the line which left him doubled over in pain.
A few moments later, Nadal fired over his second ace of a dramatic afternoon to take the win.
Nadal, whose only loss in Monte Carlo came back in 2003, produced some 36 unforced errors while the 34th-ranked Dimitrov struck 28 winners.
"It`s a tough loss, I think I gave everything I had today," said Dimitrov.
"Today he obviously showed why he`s the best not only on that surface, I believe, but he`s one of the best out there."
French sixth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will line up as Nadal`s semi-final opponent after defeating Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Wawrinka had knocked out second seed Andy Murray 24 hours earlier.
"It`s an incredible challenge, he`s won eight times here. Anything I might achieve will be just a bonus for me," said Tsonga of his date with the Spaniard.
"I know I`m going to play a player that`s a lot better than I am on clay. I do have some weapons, I have everything to win and nothing to lose."
In the other half of the draw, Italy`s Fabio Fognini upset French seventh seed Richard Gasquet 7-6 (7/0), 6-2 to next play Djokovic.