Nadal struggles to beat Davydenko

Rafael Nadal battled past Nikolay Davydenko 7-6 (3), 6-7 (8), 6-4 in the Rome Masters semifinals on Saturday.

updated: May 14, 2007 13:46 IST
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Rafael Nadal battled past Nikolay Davydenko 7-6 (3), 6-7 (8), 6-4 in the Rome Masters semifinals on Saturday and broke John McEnroe's record for most victories on one surface.

McEnroe had a 75-match winning streak on indoor-carpet fromn September 1983 to April 1985.

"It's nice to have these records but the important thing for me is to be in the final right now," Nadal said after his 76th successive win on clay.

"The guy seems like he's unbeatable right now," said McEnroe, who was at the Foro Italico for a seniors tournament. "Doesn't he ever have a bad day or a headache once in a while or something? His intensity and quality level is just amazing."

Nadal dropped his serve while serving for each of the first two sets and lost the second set - the first time he has lost a set in 14 matches on clay this season. But the Spaniard eventually wore out fourth-ranked Davydenko to close out the match in 3 hours, 38 minutes.

"He tried for every ball - it's amazing," Davydenko said. "It was my body. My shoulder was tired. I'm not like Nadal physically. I need to improve physically. My tennis is not so bad."

In the final, Nadal will meet sixth-ranked Fernando Gonzalez, who ended Filippo Volandri's impressive run with a 6-1, 6-2 rout.

Nadal beat Gonzalez in the quarterfinals here last year but Gonzalez holds a 3-1 edge in career meetings, including a win in the Australian Open quarterfinals in January. Gonzalez went on to lose the final in the year's first major to Roger Federer.

"It's going to be an interesting final. It's always very difficult against Gonzalez," Nadal said. "I'm a little bit tired after today. The important thing for me is to play my best tennis. I can lose, but I'll have my chances."

Physical discomfort

Nadal visited the hospital on Thursday to check a dizzy spell and an apparent stomach problem and he didn't look fully fit during long stretches against Davydenko.

Normally considered the fastest player on tour, the second-ranked Spaniard arrived late to balls he usually crushes for winners and his baseline shots did not penetrate as far as normal in his opponent's court.

"I wasn't playing my best tennis today," Nadal said, adding that he felt fine physically. "I was very near to (losing), but all the time I (stayed) tough mentally. It was a very, very physical test, but it was more of a mental test."

Nadal is attempting to become the first player to win this French Open warmup three consecutive times. Thomas Muster and Jaroslav Drobny _ a Czech player in the 1950s _ also won in Rome three times, but not in succession.

Nadal lost his serve at love when he served for the first set at 5-4 and saved a set point trailing 6-5 with a risky drop shot. Davydenko ran the drop shot down but couldn't get it back over the net.

"Normally, if you put it in the court, Nadal runs it down. You need to make a winner," Davydenko said, explaining his costly error. "It was bad luck."

In the first-set tiebreaker, Nadal took control when Davydenko missed four forehands on the first four points.

Nadal uncharacteristically committed 19 unforced errors to Davydenko's 14 in the first set.

Nadal increased his consistency in the second set but again lost his serve at love when he served for the match at 5-3.

In the second-set tiebreaker, Davydenko required six set points before Nadal scooped down low for a backhand that sailed long.

After exchanging breaks early in the final set, Nadal broke Davydenko at love to take a 5-4 lead and dropped to the clay in relief when Davydenko's forehand return sailed long on his first match point in the next game.

For much of the match, the lean and nimble Davydenko hovered on top of the baseline and was often able to angle shots to the corners, moving Nadal from side to side.

"I was surprised. Even from the baseline I was better," Davydenko said. "He was in trouble."

Nadal also appeared frustrated with Davydenko's deep service returns, which were landing just in front of the baseline. Some of the returns took awkward bounces and at one such point midway through the first set, Nadal held his arms out wide in frustration.

"Davydenko was playing a very great match. He plays with great timing," Nadal said. "It was very difficult for me."

Volandri upset top-ranked Roger Federer on Thursday and also knocked out No. 12 Tomas Berdych and No 13 Richard Gasquet this week, but the Italian wild card was never in contention against Gonzalez.

Gonzalez staved off a break point in the opening game of the match, broke in the following game and never looked back.

"The first two games were fundamental," Volandri said.

Gonzalez picked on Volandri's backhand and took some speed off his first serve to make sure he got it in on the important points. The Chilean also mixed in an occasional serve and volley and flattened out his ground strokes for winners to end several long rallies.

"He played perfectly. I couldn't get into any rallies. I couldn't play like I wanted to, that's the most disappointing thing," Volandri said. "But I beat the No. 1 player and two players in the top 15, I've got nothing to be ashamed about. It's been a fantastic week."

Gonzalez won 79 percent of the points when he got his first serve in and converted all four of his break points.

"His game is based on his serve and forehand. What he also did well today was defend well with his backhand," Volandri said. "His level today was very high. Maybe only Nadal could have played better."