Rafael Nadal today moved a step closer to a potential Sunday showdown with Roger Federer after advancing to the semi-finals of the US Open for the third year in succession.
Nadal beat fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco 7-5 6-3 6-4 in their quarter-final at Flushing Meadows and will now face Russia's Mikhail Youzhny in tomorrow's semi-finals.
Youzhny came from two sets to one down to beat Stanislas Wawrinka 3-6 7-6 3-6 6-3 6-3 in Thursday's other quarter-final, while five-time champion Federer faces Novak Djokovic in the remaining semi-final.
Nadal had won all 10 of his previous meetings with eighth seed Verdasco, losing just three sets in the process, although two of those did come in an epic five-set semi-final at the Australian Open in 2009 which lasted a record five hours and 14 minutes.
However, it was Verdasco who jumped out to a surprise early lead in the opening set on a chilly, windy night in New York, Nadal losing his serve for the first time in the tournament after 62 successful holds.
Verdasco could not make the most of his chance though, committing two double faults in a row to give back the break and then getting broken to love in the 12th game as Nadal took the set after 59 minutes.
A single break of serve was enough for Nadal to take the second set too, and when the top seed broke in the first game of the third the writing was well and truly on the wall.
Nadal, who needs to win on Sunday to complete the career Grand Slam, said: "It's a very, very nice feeling to be in the semi-finals for the third time in a row in one of the most important tournaments in the world - for me probably the most important right now.
"It was very difficult to play, it was difficult to have a big serve because when you threw the ball up it was tough to control.
"But I knew Fernando had a really tough match two days ago (coming back from two sets down to beat David Ferrer) so he was probably a bit tighter than normal. I am sorry for him, but it's a very important victory for me."
Earlier in the day, Youzhny reached the second Grand Slam semi-final of his career, beating Wawrinka in a match lasting exactly four hours.
Wawrinka had spent 12 hours and 27 minutes on court simply to reach the quarter-finals, over five and a half hours more than compatriot Roger Federer, but was two sets to one up before the previous tough matches against American Sam Querrey and Britain's Andy Murray began to take their toll.
"Right now I'm happy because I just finished the match and I won this match," Youzhny added. "So it's a good result, but already you are in the semi-final and you still have a match to play. Of course you want more.
"I don't think (going out) now is a good result, so I want more. Of course, against Rafa or Verdasco it will be a tough match, but I hope not only for me. I hope for those guys also it will be a tough match. We will see what happens."
Wawrinka, who had been looking to join compatriot Roger Federer in the semi-finals, said: "I think today Mikhail was playing very good. I tried my best, I tried to fight on all the match but it was too much.
"If I go back, I'm very pleased with the tournament, but just an hour after losing in a five-set match against Mikhail Youzhny it's always difficult to find all the positive things."