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Nadal sets up Berdych semi-final

Greg Garber
March 27, 2014 « Title is in touching distance, says Silva | Test Wayin World Cup »
Rafael Nadal was a beaten Miami finalist in 2005, 2008 and 2011 © Getty Images
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Rafael Nadal, despite his vulnerable knees - and, more recently, back - has been a remarkably consistent player.

No active player - hello there, Mr Federer - has been ranked among the ATP World Tour's top five for a longer stretch; come May, Rafa will hit the nine-year mark. Since winning his first grand slam singles title, at Roland Garros in 2005, Nadal has played 32 majors, won 13 and missed four.

When he crashed out in the first round of Wimbledon after another bout with those fluky knees, some wondered if Nadal would ever again be a force on hard courts. And then, in a span of 37 summer days, Nadal won 17 consecutive matches and the titles in Montreal, Cincinnati and New York.

Berdych out for revenge

Tomas Berdych is aiming to make the final in Miami for the second time in his career © Getty Images
  • If Nadal is to advance to a fourth Miami final, where his current record is 0-3, he will need to get past Tomas Berdych, who the Spaniard has beaten 16 times in a row over the past seven years.
  • Berdych is set to return to the world's top five after beating Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-4 7-6(3) to move into the last four.
  • Berdych is aiming to reach the final for the second time in his career, having finished runner-up to Andy Roddick in 2010.
  • Triumph at Crandon Park gave Berdych his 450th ATP Tour level win, making him only the ninth player to achieve the landmark.
  • Both players enjoyed a break each in the early stage of the match, before rain forced them off the court with the opening set locked at 4-4. However, Berdych took advantage on their return as he clinched two games to claim the first set.
  • Dolgopolov responded and found himself a break up at 3-2 in the second, but relinquished his lead when dropping serve in the 10th game. From there, Berdych dominated the tie break to book his spot in the last four after one hour 45 minutes on court.

One of those tilts - the final in Canada - was against a 23-year-old Canadian named Milos Ranoic. He lost 6-2 6-2, but clearly a lesson was learned.

On Wednesday night a 24-year-old from Japan, Kei Nishikori, stunned venerable champion Roger Federer. Thursday night it was Raonic who threw a plausible scare into Federer's phenomenal foil, Nadal.

Returning serve like he was at home at Roland Garros - sometimes 10 feet behind the baseline - Nadal scuffled and scraped to a 4-6 6-2 6-4 victory. He seemed quite relieved when it was over.

"There is always the pressure to play against a big server like Milos," Nadal said in his on-court interview. "When you are a set down and only have one break, you do not have time to relax. I was lucky to have the advantage at the beginning of the second set when Milos double-faulted."

Nadal and Raonic entered the match as the only two players who haven't had their serves broken in the tournament. That's not the case anymore. While Nadal had three opportunities to do so in the first set, he couldn't accomplish it. Raonic is typically among the ATP's ace leaders, but a high ankle sprain suffered at the Australian Open limited him to only seven matches played coming into the tournament.

Still he was averaging a formidable 17 aces per match and he unleashed a few bombs against Nadal - one of them at 144 miles per hour.

With Nadal serving at 4-5, Raonic shocked the crowd by taking the first set when Nadal sandwiched two atypical double faults around a brilliant backhand volley stab from Raonic. After losing four matches and all eight sets to Rafa, Raonic had finally broken through.

Rafa, as you might have suspected, came crunching back to break Raonic at the top of the second set. A double fault, struck well long, was Raonic's undoing. And then it happened again; Another double gave Rafa a 3-0 lead (very nearly 5-0) and this one had the feeling of another three-set instant classic.

Raonic held off Rafa (barely) until the seventh game of the ultimate set. He actually secured two game points, but with the match well past the two-hour mark he appeared to be tiring and missed seven first serves in that game alone. Nadal hit a looping forehand and Raonic's backhand found the net.

The good news? Raonic will be a top-10 player again on Monday when the ATP rankings come out. The bad? He had some serious chances to win this thing.

"It was hard, but I feel that I fought a lot today," Nadal said. "I am happy to be in the semi-final."

Greg Garber is a senior tennis writer for ESPN.com

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