PARIS — It was about time Rafael Nadal faced some sort of test at the French Open.
Not that this one lasted all that long or was all that taxing.
Still, after dropping a total of 19 games through his first four matches — the fewest at Roland Garros in 30 years - Nadal finally found himself in an even-as-can-be set at the outset of his quarterfinal against 12th-seeded Nicolas Almagro.
While Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer have been forced to come back from two-set deficits in Paris, this qualified as a tight spot for Nadal. They went to a tiebreaker, and when Almagro’s backhand return of a 121 mph serve landed out to cede the set, Nadal leaned forward and yelled, “Come on!”
Maybe it signaled excitement. Perhaps relief. This much was clear, in case anyone harbored any doubt: Nadal can summon his best play when he needs it. Moving closer to a record seventh French Open championship, Nadal reached the semifinals by beating Almagro 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, 6-3 to improve to 50-1 at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament.
“I played well. I applied my strategy. I tried to do my best,” Almagro said. “But he was at such a high level.”
Not only has he won all 15 sets he’s played, but Nadal has won 60 of his 61 service games, 54 in a row since being broken in the second set of his first-round victory over Simone Bolelli. He’s saved 16 of 17 break points, including going 4 for 4 against Almagro.
The next player who will try to stop him is No. 6 David Ferrer, who, like Nadal and Almagro, is from Spain. Ferrer reached his third major semifinal, but first at Roland Garros, by eliminating No. 4 Andy Murray 6-4, 6-7 (7-3), 6-3, 6-2 in a match interrupted by a half-hour rain delay early in the third set.
The other men’s semifinal Friday will be No. 1-ranked Djokovic against No. 3 Federer. Djokovic is bidding to become the first man to win four consecutive major titles since Rod Laver 43 years ago. Federer wants to add to his record 16 Grand Slam titles and end a drought of more than two years without one.
Ferrer and Federer are both 30 - the last two of the record 37 thirtysomethings who were in the draw - and it’s the first time two French Open semifinalists were at least that old since Laver and Ken Rosewall in 1969. It hasn’t happened at any Grand Slam tournament since Andre Agassi and Wayne Ferreira were in the final four at the 2003 Australian Open.
In the women’s semifinals Thursday, three-time major champion Maria Sharapova faces No. 4 Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic in a rematch of last year’s Wimbledon final won by Kvitova, while U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur of Australia meets No. 21 Sara Errani of Italy.
Sharapova, who is trying to complete a career Grand Slam, beat No. 23 Kaia Kanepi 6-2, 6-3 Wednesday, and Kvitova edged 142nd-ranked qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
“What girl doesn’t like Paris? Great shopping, great everything. I mean, great food, great people and culture. I absolutely love it here,” Sharapova said. “The more I come, the more I shop, and the thinner the wallet gets. But that’s OK, right?”