Nadal on course in Monte Carlo
A ninth Monte Carlo Masters title is getting closer for Rafael Nadal with most of his rivals out of the way - including Roger Federer, who again misses out on one of the few trophies not already in his glittering collection.
But Federer - a four-time runner-up on the French Riviera - was not too disappointed, considering that his priority was to come back safely after more than two months out following knee surgery.
Nadal beat Stan Wawrinka 6-1, 6-4 yesterday to set up a third semi-final here against Andy Murray. Federer lost 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, despite being two points from victory when 5-4 up in the decider, with Tsonga 15-30 down on his serve.
This was Federer's first tournament play since arthroscopic surgery on his left knee for torn cartilage on February 3, and defeat was softened by relief at avoiding any relapse.
"It was good to play back-to-back, yesterday and today, good to play 2 hours 10 (minutes) today," Federer said. "It was nice to play an intense match. I'm happy how the body reacted."
With top-ranked Novak Djokovic and Wawrinka - the French Open champion - also out, Federer himself picked Nadal when asked about the favourite.
Nadal leads Murray 16-6 in career meetings and 6-1 on clay. For the other two semi-finalists, Nadal is 11-2 up on Gael Monfils - 4-0 on clay - and 8-4 on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, having beaten him here in the semi-finals three years ago. Nadal went on to lose the 2013 final to Djokovic, who was stunned in the second round this year by Czech Jiri Vesely, an unheralded Czech player ranked 55th.
In a one-sided contest between former champions, Nadal broke Wawrinka four times and made the semi-finals for the 11th time.
Murray took out Milos Raonic 6-2, 6-0 for the second time this year.
The Briton thinks patience will be the key factor against the nine-time French Open champion.