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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, April 23, 2021

 
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Rafael Nadal beat Cameron Norrie 6-1, 6-4 charging into the Barcelona Open semifinals for the 13th time and improving to 64-4 lifetime at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell.

Photo credit: Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell Instagram

The sight of a southpaw across the net can leave some left-handers feel as if they're looking into a mirror.

Bending dipping topspin into the corners, Rafael Nadal gave Cameron Norrie a sense of how it feels to face a fun-house mirror: ridiculous angles conspire to create warped reality.

More: Tsitsipas, Sinner On Collision Course

Playing his cleanest match of the week, Nadal topped Norrie 6-1, 6-4 to charge into his 13th Barcelona Open semifinal and improve to 64-4 lifetime at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell.

It was Nadal's 450th career clay-court victory as the king of clay is finding his stride closing in on his 61st career clay-court championship.




The top-seeded Spaniard looked more confident on serve and was sharper stepping around his backhand to fire his forehand. Nadal hit 22 winners against 18 unforced errors in a one-hour 34-minute victory that was more competitive than the scoreline suggests.

"I think I played a good first set, good intensity taking advantage of the points with my forehand," Nadal said. "I have been under control most of the time in the first set.

"During the second set I slowed down a little bit the intensity, I think, I missed a couple of more balls. I think Cameron is the kind of player that makes you feel uncomfortable on court—that's one of his highlights. He's smart on court and I feel that it is difficult to play well against him. For me personally it has been a positive victory and a positive day."

Continuing his quest for a record-extending 12th Barcelona crown on his namesake court, Nadal will face either ATP Cup teammate Pablo Carreno Busta or Diego Schwartzman, who stunned the Spaniard in Rome last fall, for a spot in the final.

The third-ranked Nadal is playing for his first Barcelona final since 2018 when he swept Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2, 6-1 to take the title.

Even when he's not playing, Nadal's imprint is all over this tournament.

Earlier, the second-seeded Tsitsipas topped Toni Nadal-coached Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-3, 6-3 to set up a bottom-half semifinal against 19-year-old Italian phenom Jannik Sinner, who opened the season training with Nadal in Adelaide and called it one of the most productive experiences of his young career.

Solidifying his status as a player headed for the Top 10, Sinner stopped Monte-Carlo finalist Andrey Rublev 6-2, 7-6(6) one week after the red-hot Rublev upset his tennis hero Nadal in the Monte-Carlo quarterfinals.

After dropping sets in his opening two Barcelona matches for the first time in his career, Nadal was not suffering identity crisis carrying a 17-match winning streak against fellow lefties into today's rematch with Norrie.

The oldest man still standing in the draw knew he needed to make first serves and attack with deep heavy topspin forehands to thwart Norrie's skill stepping in and taking his two-handed backhand on the rise.

Spinning his first serve deep in the box for much of the match, Nadal served 60 percent, won 13 of 23 second-serve points and saved two of three break points.

After dropping sets to 111th-ranked qualifier Ilya Ivashka and two-time champion Kei Nishikori in his first two matches, Nadal looked more confident stretching the court and the lead. He ran off five straight games to snatch a one-set lead.

The Norrie game can be confusing to first-time opponents because his two-handed backhand is his flatter shot while he applies more spin on his lefty forehand, but also requires a bit more time to generate his complete swing through that wing.

Nadal sailed through six straight points to seal the 41-minute opening set.

Challenging the top seed's forehand proved to be a painful experience in the third game.

Down triple break point, Norrie hit his slider serve wide, but Nadal read it and curled a flick forehand return nearly around the net post down the line for a winner. That bit of mind-blowing magic gave Nadal the first break of the second set.




The 11-time champion thumped an ace to back up the break for 3-1.

Down double break point in the eighth game, Nadal amped up his aggression bolting a backhand winner down the line then snapping a smash to save both break points with a "vamos!"

Still, the gritty Norrie used high heavy topspin to create space then stepped in and smacked his two hander down the line for a third break point. When Nadal lifted a forehand long, Norrie broke back to even it up 4-all.




Backing up a break on dirt against Nadal is a task as tough as using a toothbrush to sweep clean a clay-court. The master of the re-break responded cleaning the baseline a few times in breaking back at love.

Serving for the match, Nadal darted a backhand pass for a second match point then punished a short forehand down the line to seal his smoothest win of the week in one hour, 34 minutes.

"I am in the semifinals that's the thing today I have been able to access that round for the first time during this year so that's positive news for me," Nadal said. "Happy the way that I was able to improve every single day.

"Now is the moment to keep improving if I want to have chances tomorrow against a tough opponent. Let's see."

 

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