POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Sep 10, 2010
NEW YORK » After one early miss, Rafael Nadal slapped himself on the right thigh. After another, he put his hands on his hips and stared at the spot where his shot went awry.
It did not take long for Nadal to put a slightly slow start behind him and move one step closer to the only Grand Slam title he hasn't won.
The top-seeded Nadal figured out how to handle the wind that's plagued the tournament, got his serve in gear after being broken for the only time in five matches, and beat No. 8 Fernando Verdasco 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 last night in the first all-Spanish quarterfinal in U.S. Open history.
Nadal's streak of 62 consecutive holds of serve ended in yesterday's third game, when he put a forehand in the net, allowing Verdasco to break him at love to go ahead 2-1. Nadal wouldn't face another break point the rest of the match, though, and won the last 13 points he served in the second set.
And now Nadal is headed to a third consecutive semifinal at Flushing Meadows. Nadal never has reached a final in New York, losing in the semifinals to Andy Murray in 2008, and to eventual champion Juan Martin del Potro in 2009.
"Right now, for me, it's a very, very nice feeling to be in (the) semifinals for the third time in a row for one of the most important tournaments in the world," Nadal said. "For me, probably right now, the most important."
Tomorrow, Nadal -- trying to complete a career Grand Slam at age 24 by earning a U.S. Open trophy to put alongside the eight total he owns from the French Open, Wimbledon and Australian Open -- will face 12th-seeded Mikhail Youzhny of Russia.
No. 2 Roger Federer will face No. 3 Novak Djokovic in tomorrow's other semifinal; they won their quarterfinals Wednesday.
Youzhny's only previous trip to the semifinals at any Grand Slam tournament came at the 2006 U.S. Open, and he made it there by upsetting Nadal in the quarterfinals.
Yesterday, he hit fewer aces and fewer winners than his opponent and still managed to come back and beat No. 25 Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland 3-6, 7-6 (7), 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in four hours.
"Maybe I was just a bit luckier than him," Youzhny said.