By JOSEPH WILSON, Associated Press
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Seven-time winner Rafael Nadal won back-to-back matches to advance to the semifinals of the Barcelona Open on Friday.
After rain forced several third-round matches to be pushed back, Nadal started the day by beating Benoit Paire of France 7-6 (2), 6-2. The fifth-ranked Spaniard then defeated Albert Ramos 6-3, 6-0 after his overmatched opponent had downed Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-4, 7-6 (4) earlier in the day.
"I played much better in the second match than in the morning," Nadal said after finishing off Ramos. "Above all in the second set, when Albert made more mistakes than usual."
Nadal has won 37 straight matches on the red clay at Real Club de Tenis and is on course to make his sixth straight final this year after returning from a long injury layoff.
He will face either Milos Raonic or Tommy Robredo on Saturday.
Nadal responded well to the test of playing two matches in the same day as he works his way back to form. He returned in February from a nagging case of tendinitis in his left knee that had sidelined him for seven months.
Nadal reached five straight finals heading into Barcelona, but lost to Novak Djokovic last weekend. That ended his eight-year winning run at Monte Carlo and raised questions of whether he's ready to compete next month for the much more grueling French Open title.
Nadal has won at Roland Garros a record seven times.
"I got through a complicated day fine," Nadal said.
Earlier, Robredo fought back from a set down to eliminate sixth-ranked Tomas Berdych 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 in the third round. The unseeded Robredo hit a winner that clipped the baseline to break Berdych's serve for the fourth time on match point.
Raonic defeated Ernests Gulbis 6-2, 7-6 (6).
Fourth-seeded Nicolas Almagro beat Juan Monaco 6-3, 7-5 to make his third semifinal in the Catalan capital after he broke the Argentine's serve late before serving out the second set.
Almagro will play Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany in the semifinals after the German advanced two rounds despite playing just six games on Friday.
"I'm excited to have a shot at making my first final here in Barcelona, but it won't be easy," Almagro said. "Kohlschreiber has a great return."
Kohlschreiber rallied past Martin Klizan of Slovakia 1-6, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (5) after their third-round match was postponed on Thursday with Klizan leading 4-3 in the third set. Kohlschreiber then advanced to the semifinals after Thomaz Bellucci withdrew.
Instead of wearing down, Nadal appeared to have worked out the kinks in his match with Paire, and after a couple of hours of rest he rolled over Ramos.
Nadal made quick work of the 64th-ranked rival by taking his first service games in each set. He didn't give Ramos an opportunity to break his serve and finished his second match in just over an hour.
Nadal last lost at the Barcelona Open 10 years ago to Spain's Davis Cup captain, Alex Corretja.
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