Rafael Nadal advanced to the singles semi-finals of the Brazil Open here late Friday, with a difficult three-set win over Argentine Carlos Berlocq. The 26-year-old Spaniard, ranked number five in the world, won 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 in two hours 24 minutes against the 30-year-old Argentine, ranked 78th in the world.
Nadal will face off in Saturday's semi-final against another Argentine, Martin Alund, who earlier Friday defeated Filippo Volandri of Italy 7-5, 7-6. An aggressive Berlocq dominated the first set, breaking Nadal's serve twice before prevailing 6-3.
But the Spanish star, who enjoyed the overwhelming, raucous support of the crowd at Sao Paulo's Ibirapuera gymnasium, later said he never thought of losing the match. "I was able to be solid with my serves and take advantage of the fact that he (Berlocq) did not return well," he noted.
But Berlocq fought gallantly, serving several aces. Nadal, who is recovering from a knee injury, at times appeared a bit tentative but used his powerful serves and some brilliant drop shots to tame his opponent.
He is the top seed in this $455,775 tournament, his second comeback event after a seven-month absence due to the knee injury. Last week, he competed in the Vina del Mar Open in Chile, losing the singles and doubles finals Sunday.
The Spaniard, who has claimed seven of his 11 Grand Slam titles on the clay courts of Roland Garros, won the Brazil Open in 2005 when it was held in Costa do Sauipe in eastern Bahia state. Last year, the tournament was moved to Sao Paulo and Spaniard Nicolas Almagro won.
The Brazil Open is part of the Latin American clay court circuit, along with the Vina del Mar event and the Mexico Open, in Acapulco, where Nadal plans to play later this month.