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Rafa cruises, Andy falters
- Sharapova, Kvitova make semis in contrasting styles

Paris: A rain shower stopped play at Roland Garros for a minute or two in the middle of Rafael Nadal’s quarter final.

Nicolas Almagro? He couldn’t do anything to slow Rafa at his favourite tournament.

The second-seeded Nadal defeated his fellow Spaniard 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-3 on Wednesday to move to the French Open semi-finals, two wins away from a record seventh title on the red clay of Paris.

On the other hand, sixth-seeded David Ferrer beat No. 4 Andy Murray 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-2 Wednesday to reach the semis for the first time.

In a match interrupted by a rain delay for about a half-hour early in the third set, Ferrer broke serve 10 times and played much cleaner tennis, making 32 unforced errors, 27 fewer than Murray.

Ferrer now will face six-time French Open champion Nadal in an all-Spanish semi-final on Friday. It’ll be the third Grand Slam semi-final of Ferrer’s career, but he’s never made it to a final.

Ferrer ended Murray’s streak of reaching at least the semis at five consecutive majors.

Nadal, who shares the Roland Garros record with Bjorn Borg, hasn’t lost a set through his first five matches this year. Against the 12th-seeded Almagro, he faced four break points but saved them all. He improved to 50-1 lifetime at Roland Garros, with the only loss coming to Robin Soderling in 2009.

“I was just trying to wait for my moments,” Nadal said. “He had some good moments and he was hitting the ball hard, but I had my chances, too.”

Nadal finished his match in quicker time and it means that he’ll have a few hours of extra rest before the semis, though he hardly needs it. Including the 2 hours, 46 minutes he took to dispatch Almagro, Nadal has spent a grand total of 10 hours, 37 minutes on court. Novak Djokovic, by comparison, spent a combined 8 hours, 27 minutes grinding out his past two matches — five-set wins over Andreas Seppi and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Djokovic saved four match points in his win Tuesday against the Frenchman Tsonga and Nadal spent about as much time answering questions about that match as his own, which produced none of the drama.

“A player like Novak probably creates more chances to save tough matches like yesterday, where he’s in a trouble situation,” Nadal said. “He’s fighting, putting another ball inside the court and puts pressure all the time against Tsonga.”

Earlier, an afternoon of eavesdropping and people watching in Paris awaited Maria Sharapova as she crept closer to fulfilling her burning desire to hold aloft the Suzanne Lenglen Cup by setting up a French Open semi-final date with Petra Kvitova.       

The statuesque Russian would like nothing better than to eavesdrop on Kvitova’s semi-final tactics as she bids to clear the final hurdles blocking her path towards completing a career Grand Slam and reclaiming the world No.1 ranking.       

Sharapova was greeted with menacing clouds and even a brief shower burst on Philippe Chatrier Court but performed a quick rain dance to slide into the last four with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Estonian Kaia Kanepi.       

The victory allowed her to skip off court in 74 minutes, leaving her time to indulge in her favourite Parisian pastime, while over on Suzanne Lenglen Court Kvitova was in danger of missing out on the semi-final party.       

The Czech hauled herself back from 2-4 down in the final set before finally ending the adventure of 142nd-ranked Kazakh qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 to set up a meeting with the woman she beat in last year’s Wimbledon final.       

There was nothing surreptitious about Shvedova's game plan on Wednesday.       

The bespectacled Shvedova had shown no fear or nerves in spinning holder Li Na out of the tournament in the previous round and she also left Kvitova in a daze.       

The Kazakh stood two games away from booting out yet another grand-slam winner from a topsy-turvy French Open, where only three women lived up to their seedings in reaching the last eight, but in the end Kvitova relied on her ice-cool temperament to dig herself out of a hole.       

Such was her focus that she did not even blink when she started to get drenched in driving rain sweeping through the court and levelled for 4-4 as a rapidly tiring Shvedova was briefly forced to toss aside her blue-framed prescription glasses.       

Kvitova, though, made the most of her 20/20 vision to earn her first match point but let out a piercing squeal as she hit a wild forehand long and wide. She made no mistake on the second as Shvedova smacked a backhand wide to bow out.       

“I was just super-tired. I had zero energy left,” Shvedova said after losing out on her chance to become the first qualifier and first player from her nation to reach the women’s semis in Paris.

Kvitova will have less than 24 hours now to get her breath back for her showdown with Sharapova, who has beaten the Czech in both of their meetings this year.       

“I lost the last few matches, but I hope that I will remember something from the matches I did win against her,” said Kvitova, the only top-10 player who has not reached a final this year. “It will be a big challenge for me tomorrow.”

Just like last July, Sharapova will be the favourite to win Thursday’s tussle and she made sure she would be fresh for that.

In fact, so easy was her win, that the Russian, who rates Paris as the best city for people watching, appeared to be doing just that during her changeovers, perhaps taking fashion pointers from the well-heeled women dotted around the Philippe Chatrier stands. With the one-sided contest over in a flash, it left her plenty of free time to soak up the atmosphere elsewhere in Paris.