Nadal, Djokovic enter China Open semis

BEIJING: Rafael Nadal moved into the semifinals of the China Open on Friday by beating Marat Safin 6-3, 6-1.

Nadal outclassed the former top-ranked Russian almost from the start and remains on track to meet Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final. Djokovic defeated Fernando Verdasco of Spain 6-3, 1-6, 6-1.

“I think I played a really good match,” Nadal said.

“I’m happy about my level.” Safin has said he will retire

at the end of this season,

and he thanked the fans in Beijing for their support after losing to Nadal.

“I haven’t been practicing for a long time and I can still hit some balls so it’s a really nice feeling to get on the court,” said Safin, who won the inaugural China Open title in 2004.

On Saturday, Nadal will face Marin Cilic of Croatia, who defeated Nikolay Davydenko of Russia 6-4, 6-4.

Djokovic was broken by Verdasco three times in the second set, but the fourth-ranked Serb regained his form in the third set and took advantage of his Spanish opponent’s 19 unforced errors in the match. “I had ups and downs in today’s match,” Djokovic said.

Djokovic will next face Robin Soderling of Sweden, who beat Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia 7-6 (3), 6-4. Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia became the first woman to qualify for the semifinals, beating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia 6-3, 6-3.

Kuznetsova faced little challenge against Pavlyuchenkova, who eliminated Venus Williams from the tournament this week. Kuznetsova will next face Nadia Petrova of Russia, who defeated Peng Shuai of China 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-2.

“I’m very happy to get through even though I didn’t really start out playing well, but I really picked it up by the second and third sets,” said Petrova, who eliminated Serena Williams in three sets

on Thursday. Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland advanced by beating fourth-seeded

Elena Dementieva of Russia 7-5, 6-3. She will meet either Marion Bartoli of France or Vera Zvonareva of Russia in the semi-finals.

Japan Open

TOKYO: Second seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France had to work hard to beat qualifier Ernests Gulbis of Latvia to reach the semi-finals of the Japan Open tennis tournament. The 2008 Australian Open finalist, the highest remaining seeded player in the tournament, shrugged of a one-set deficit to score a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over the 98th-ranked Latvian.

Earlier, Mikhail Youzhny of Russia eliminated defending champion Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic 6-2, 7-6 (8/6) to set up a semi-final meeting with 2001 champion Lleyton Hewitt of Australia.

Hewitt, seeded eighth,

put an end to French qualifier Edouard Roger-Vasselin’s

excellent run with a 6-4, 6-0 victory. In the last match of

the day, fourth seed Gael Monfils of France defeated the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games doubles gold medallist Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 to earn a place against Tsonga. — AFP