BEIJING, Oct 10, (AFP): Novak Djokovic brushed off David Ferrer 6-2, 6-3 on Saturday to reach the China Open final, where old rival Rafael Nadal stands between the Serb and a sixth title in Beijing.
Top-ranked Djokovic suffered the inconvenience of having his service broken for the first time at this year’s tournament but he still raced to his 28th win at an event where he is yet to be beaten.
In the women’s semis, established names fell to rising stars as Garbine Muguruza beat Agnieszka Radwanska 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 and Timea Bacsinszky knocked out Ana Ivanovic 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.
And on a cold day in Beijing, Nadal stared down his nemesis Fabio Fognini 7-5, 6-3 to reach his first hardcourt final this year as he searches to recover the form which brought him 14 Grand Slam titles.
Eighth-ranked Nadal, stopped at his beloved French Open by Djokovic this year, self-effacingly said the world number one was now a class apart despite his winning record of 23-21 in their head-to-head. But Djokovic, who is now into his 12th straight final this year, dismissed Nadal’s assessment and said he was expecting a high-quality title match on Sunday.
Ten-time major-winner Djokovic had been irresistible in his run to the semi-finals, dropping only nine games thus far and he soon had Ferrer gasping with two breaks of serve to go 4-1 ahead in the first set.
Ferrer, who won his 25th career title last week in Kuala Lumpur, conjured a break of his own but the stung Djokovic broke straight back and finished the set impressively in the next game. Two more breaks in the second set put Djokovic on his way and despite a mini-implosion, when he double-faulted twice and was broken as he served for the match, a sixth break of the Ferrer serve earned him victory.
Nadal’s path to the final was much less smooth but he grittily outpunched Fognini, who has beaten him three times this season and with whom he had a furious on-court row in the Hamburg final in August.
Nadal denied an extra edge to the match in Beijing, but his lukewarm handshake at the net and apparent exchanges between his coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, and Fognini told a different story.
Nadal won the bad-tempered Hamburg final but Fognini stunned the Spaniard in last month’s US Open third round, becoming only the fourth player to beat him three times in the same season.
Meanwhile, lightning struck twice for Kei Nishikori as the defending Japan Open champion was ambushed by “shoeless” Frenchman Benoit Paire in an explosive semi-final on Saturday.
Paire, playing in a pair of badly torn sneakers following a forlorn dash to buy some new ones, won a nail-biter 1-6, 6-4, 6-2 to prove his first-round win over Nishikori at the US Open six weeks ago was no fluke.
Top seed Stan Wawrinka awaits his close friend in Sunday’s Tokyo final after the French Open champion produced a clinical 6-4, 7-6 win over Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller.
Nishikori’s bid for a third Japan Open crown in four years came to a shuddering halt as Paire roared back from dropping a whirlwind first set in just 20 minutes.
His tattered shoes held together with medical tape and with only one spare racquet in his kit bag, Paire levelled the match by ripping a backhand down the line, celebrating with a gunslinger’s pose as the crowd fell silent.
The bearded Frenchman broke early in the decider and the world number 32 fought off a late salvo from Nishikori to complete the coup de grace after one hour and 48 minutes with a massive forehand into the corner.
In contrast, Wawrinka never looked troubled in his semi-final, taking the opening set with little fuss in chilly conditions, a booming serve giving the muscular Swiss the advantage.
Twice Muller double-faulted to gift Wawrinka a break in the second, only for the world number four to immediately surrender his own serve.
But Wawrinka, chasing a fourth title of the year and the 11th of his career, knuckled down in the tiebreaker and closed out proceedings with a crunching forehand return which Muller could only volley wide.
“Benoit is a great player and a fun player to watch,” said Wawrinka, looking ahead to the final. “He is crazy in his game and can play shots nobody else can play. The important thing is that I’m in the final. The one who is more aggressive and puts all his game on court will win.”