Novak Djokovic came through one of the toughest tests of his unbeaten season to date to extend his extraordinary winning streak to 30 matches and book his place in the Mutua Madrid Open semi-finals.
Djokovic needed two hours and 27 minutes to see off home favourite David Ferrer, a finalist in consecutive recent events in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, and set up a last-four clash with Brazil’s Thomasz Bellucci.
The Serbian’s win was all the more impressive for the way he bounced back from the disappointment of losing his serve to drop the second set, before eventually marching home 6-4 4-6 6-3.
Djokovic’s crucial break in the deciding set came in the fifth game, nudging him into a lead he never looked like squandering. He broke the fading Ferrer again to close out the match in style.
The unseeded Bellucci, however, shares Djokovic’s confidence after the conqueror of Andy Murray continued his giant-killing run with a 7-6 (7-2) 6-3 win over Tomas Berdych.
Prior to Djokovic’s late win, Bellucci said: “I think I can beat any player. Djokovic and Ferrer are very good players and they are in a very good moment for themselves. But they are not invincible.”
Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will go head to head in the second semi-final after both men came through their respective last-eight clashes without dropping a set.
Nadal, the world number one and reigning champion, showed no rust after his previous round walkover against the injured Juan Martin Del Potro as he dismissed Michael Llodra 6-2 6-2.
Nadal lost only eight points on his own serve in the 75-minute rout and admitted: “It was quite good, especially here at the altitude. It’s a bit more difficult on serve but I felt quite good on court and served well.”
Next up is Federer, Nadal’s opponent in each of the past two finals, after the Swiss world number three got the better of a tough clash with double French Open runner-up Robin Soderling 7-6 (7-2) 6-4.
After nudging through the first set tie-break Federer faced break points in the sixth game of the second set but survived and grabbed the crucial break in the penultimate game of the match before serving out to win.
In the women’s event, Victoria Azarenka continued her superb run of form by beating Lucie Safarova 6-3 3-6 6-2 to move into the semi-finals – and within one more win of boosting her world ranking to four.
The fourth seed, a winner in Miami and Marbella in recent months, showed no ill effects from the shoulder injury which recently forced her out in Stuttgart as she wrapped up victory in just under two hours.
Azarenka will face fast-rising Julia Goerges in the last four after the German - who put out world number one Caroline Wozniacki in the previous round – beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4 6-2.
China’s Li Na ended the encouraging run of American Bethanie Mattek-Sands with a 6-3 3-6 6-4 triumph, and will next face 16th seed Petra Kvitova, who came from behind to beat Dominika Cibulkova 3-6 6-3 7-5.