- ATP Tour
Remarkable Nadal books Indian Wells final spot
Rafael Nadal's near-seamless return from a seven-month injury layoff will take him into the final of the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday, after he overcame Tomas Berdych in straight sets to advance from the last-four.
Nadal's road to recovery has seen him reintroduce his left knee to competitive action - with much success - on the more hospitable clay surface, but the real test was always going to be the unforgiving hard courts at Indian Wells.
A power merchant like Berdych ensured Nadal would be forced to retrieve, turn, scramble and scrap with all the intensity that once made him the world's best player, and the knee passed the test in a 6-4 7-5 victory.
On paper Berdych was never a threat to Nadal, having lost their last 11 meetings. However, given the Spaniard's current fitness concerns, the world No. 6 had the potential to blow Nadal off court in a way the below-par Roger Federer couldn't in the previous round.
Berdych was also in fine form, dropping fewer games (25) than any other player at the tournament en route to the semi-finals. And he started strongly too, more than holding his own as neither player created a break chance in the opening six games.
However, it began to fall apart for Berdych in the seventh as Nadal stormed to 0-40 on the Czech's serve. Berdych saved the first two break points but then missed his target with an easy forehand down the line with half the court to aim for.
He responded by forcing deuce in the next game but Nadal held firm to cement a 5-3 advantage. Berdych tried again with his rival serving for the set, but at 15-30 Nadal produced a wicked backhand pass en route to a 1-0 lead.
Nadal was aiming to reach the Indian Wells final for a fourth time, and there were more than a few glimpses of his very best as he settled into the second set. One particular running forehand winner down the line was breathtaking as the crowd rose from their seats to applaud.
A majestic drop shot followed as the pair once again advanced to 3-3 on serve in the second, but then Nadal threw in a shock double-fault at break-point down to allow Berdych to serve for the second set at 5-3. It was a chance he couldn't take as Nadal raised his level, powering to 0-40 before forcing his opponent to send the ball long.
The scores progressed to 5-5 before Berdych again found himself under pressure, saving one break point before facing another. Nadal sent up a desperate lob from the back of the court that should have brought an easy smash from his rival, but Berdych ballooned it out of play to allow Nadal to serve out for the match.
Still the Spaniard had to fight as he fended off three break-back points in an eight-minute game, but he eventually closed out the contest to make it four finals out of four since his return from the treatment room.