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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, October 30, 2015

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal rallied past Marin Cilic, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, to win his third three-setter of the week and reach the Basel semifinals.
Photo credit: Swiss Indoors Basel

Midway through the opening set, Rafael Nadal decided it was clean-up time.

Summoning the ball girl to bring his towel, Nadal dropped down to mop up drips of sweat behind baseline, then swiped the sweat from his face and returned to face Marin Cilic.

More: Nadal Will Partner Paes in Paris

Nadal didn't play spotless tennis, but he kept the court clean and coaxed Cilic into littering forehand errors at crunch time to pull off another comeback win.

In a battle of former US Open champions squaring off for the first time in more than four years, Nadal prevailed 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 over a sloppy Cilic. The 2014 US Open champion nearly doubled Nadal's error output (49 to 26) and lost the range on his forehand down the stretch.

It was the third-seeded Spaniard's third three-set comeback of the week. Nadal won six of the last seven games coming back from a break down to defeat Grigor Dimitrov in the round of 16. He started the week roaring back from a 6-1, 5-3 deficit defeating Lukas Rosol 1-6, 7-5, 7-6 (4) in a testy clash on Monday.

Playing from behind has prompted proactive tennis from the 14-time Grand Slam champion this week.

Advancing to his ninth semifinal of the season, and third of this month, Nadal will play Richard Gasquet for a place in the final.

The fifth-seeded Frenchman withstood 32 aces from ATP ace king Ivo Karlovic in a 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5) quarterfinal victory. Gasquet stabbed a full-stretch backhand return into play then celebrated when Karlovic's backhand approach expired in net on match point.


#Rafa #Nadal #Laziale fracico! 😂

A photo posted by Matteo Santoboni (@matteo_uccio) on

Seeking his first win over Nadal in nearly six years, Cilic showed the skills to shorten points at the outset. He slid a forehand volley into the corner to set up a snapping smash to hold for 3-all.

Serving in the seventh game, Nadal paused, motioned to the ball girl for his towel, then mopped up the sweat from the court with his white towel. He drew some chuckles from fans wiping his face with the towel before returning it to the ball kid.

Cleaning up the court, he capped a tidy hold at 30 for 4-3. Cilic continued to hold comfortably then made his move in the ninth game hitting damaging returns that forced his opponent to counter from his back foot.

As the pressure ratcheted up, Nadal's topspin drives were landing shorter in the court. Cilic crunched an inside-out backhand for his first break point. Cracking a diagonal return, Cilic broke for 5-4 when Nadal's bending banana forehand down the line missed the mark.

Cilic dropped the hammer banging successive aces to close the 41-minute opener hitting 11 more winners (12 to 1) than Nadal.

The curling kick serve Nadal hits on the ad side can neutralize right handers but the six-foot-six Croatian can crunch his two-handed backhand off the high ball. A sharp-angled backhand return helped him break to open the second set.

Nadal began targeting the Croatian's weaker wing with success midway through the second set. A stray forehand gave Nadal a second break point. Cilic tried to attack, left his approach short and Nadal swooped in for a forehand pass down the line breaking back for 2-all.

Tension strangled Cilic's right arm in a horrid eighth game. The seventh seed clanked his third double fault of the game into the middle of the net, then sent a flat forehand into the bottom of the net gifting Nadal a second break.

Displacing the big man with the wide served, Nadal zapped an inside-out forehand to save break point. A forehand winner down the line gave him set point. Nadal forced the decider on a Cilic error.

Cilic's second serve and forehand fell apart at critical stages. His sixth double fault followed by a forehand into the net gave Nadal the break to start the third set. Using the deep no-pace slice to draw errors from the Croatian's forehand, Nadal saved a pair of break points for 3-1.

Slashing a diagonal forehand winner, Nadal earned three match points. He closed the two hour, 13-minute match when Cilic pushed a forehand volley wide.

It wasn't his best tennis—Nadal left a few spinny forehands short in the court at times and didn't always knife his slice backhand—but he competed with vigor and played with positive energy fighting through another comeback.


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