MIAMI (AFP) ― World tennis No. 1 Rafael Nadal will square off against Swiss rival Roger Federer in a rare semi-final showdown Friday that will be their first match on American soil in six years.
Spain’s Nadal reached the last four at the $9 million WTA and ATP Masters tournament on Thursday by beating Czech Tomas Berdych 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.
Third seed Federer barely broke a sweat as his quarter-final match was called off after just 10 minutes when Frenchman Gilles Simon couldn’t continue because of a neck injury.
Federer and Nadal, who have 110 career singles titles between them, meet in Friday’s night match on centre court.
The last time they faced each other in the United States was the 2005 Miami championship game in which Federer rallied from two sets down to beat Nadal 2-6, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-1 for the title.
“For me, it’s like (a) really special thing when we play each other,” Nadal said.
“Because we play always really important matches. Tomorrow is a semi-final. Very few times we played in semi-finals of one tournament. The rest of the matches are finals and important for big titles. That makes the rivalry very, very special.”
The two giants have met 20 times since their last meeting in Miami with Nadal winning 13 of those, including a dozen finals. In their 22 career meetings, just three have been in the semis of a tournament.
“I don’t know if rivals in the rest of the history of tennis played a lot of the matches, as many matches as we played,” Nadal said.
“I don’t know how many matches played McEnroe/Borg or Sampras/Agassi, but we played a lot of times. That is what makes the match really special.”
The two women’s finalists were confirmed Thursday. Eighth seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus beat Russian third seed Vera Zvonareva 6-0, 6-3 in a night match to reach the final.
Azarenka next faces former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova who rallied for a 3-6, 6-0, 6-2 victory over German Andrea Petkovic in the other semi-final.
Nadal clinched victory over the Czech Berdych by winning the final eight points, shook hands at the net and celebrated by throwing his orange wrist bands into the crowd.
The Spaniard, who was bothered by a nerve problem in his right arm for part of the match, blasted eight aces and hammered 32 winners. Berdych fired 11 aces but made 30 unforced errors in the two hour, 17 minute match on centre court.
“You play No. 1 in the world, so it’s always, always really tough,” Berdych said. “He just served unbelievably well and that’s it.”
In his short spell on court Federer won three games ― and 12 of the 15 points ― before Simon retired with a stiff neck and was booed off the court.
The Frenchman, who talked with a trainer during a changeover before conceding the match and shaking hands with Federer, said he understood the fans’ frustration.
“The public pays the ticket to see the players,” Simon said. “It’s tough for them to see Roger only 10 minutes.
“But of course the sadness on the court is me for sure. You have to play 100 percent if you want to have a chance to win. When you play Roger, you have to play more than that.”
Sharapova, seeded 16th, overcame her slow start by winning 11 straight games en route to a three set win.
In Saturday’s final, Sharapova will be seeking her first title since May 2010, and her first in Miami.
“It would mean a lot,” she said. “It’s the biggest tournament I think after the Grand Slams. I look forward to going out there and getting it done.”
Azarenka hit one ace and won 72 percent of her first serve points in the 76 minute match Thursday.