Nadal, Djokovic on the cusp of second Monte Carlo showdown

MONTE CARLO: Rafael Nadal survived a minor rain break before resuming his storied clay-court dominance with a 6-4, 6-2 quarter-final defeat of fellow Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero at the Monte Carlo Masters on Friday.

Top seed Novak Djokovic moved nearer to a repeat of the final he lost to the Spaniard here a year ago with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Argentine David Nalbandian, a player on the way back to success after hip surgery last May.

"I have to represent the rest of the world," joked Djokovic, the only non-Spaniard remaining in the last four. "It''s a great responsibility.

"You know how well they did on the clay last season, so it''s no surprise to find them again in the semis. They are the specialists of this surface.

"Ninety percent of their courts are clay and they are in top condition, Nadal, (Fernando) Verdasco and the rest are the perfect example of how to play on clay."

Djokovic will test his theory as he bids for another final at the event, facing sixth seed Verdasco who needed to pull out of a second-set swoon after losing a 5-1 lead. The Spaniard finally ending the hopes of Alberto Montanes 6-3, 6-7 (4/7), 6-0 in two hours.

"When I got to match point and I started to take risks," admitted Verdasco.

"I lost confidence and suddenly he was back in it. But I recovered in the third set and played solid."

Second-seeded Nadal has now won 30 consecutive matches on the clay of the seaside Country Club, his last loss at the event coming in 2003.

The four-time Roland Garros winner, in search of his first ATP title since last May, will face another countryman Saturday against 11th seed David Ferrer, who put out German Philip Kohlschreiber 7-5, 7-6 (7/1).

"To get to the semi-finals is a very good start to the clay season," said Nadal. "I did well.

"I played a complete match today and I served much better, the best in three days. That''s very important."

This year''s event turned into an Iberian play-day, with Spaniards accounting for five of eight spots heading into the quarters.

That marked a first at the Master 1000 level during the post-1968 Open era.

The last time Spain sent five men to the last eight was at home in Valencia two years ago.

Nadal improved his record on clay against the man who proceeded him as a major clay-court force to 5-1, last losing to 30-year-old former number one Ferrero in their last meeting in the Rome second round two years ago.

Nadal improved to 19-4 on clay this season as he hopes for a confidence boost after claiming the last five trophys in the principality.

This period is crucial for the world number three as Nadal tries to regain his customary confidence with massive ranking point totals to defend after sweeping to clay titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome in three consecutive weeks in 2009.

The match was interrupted for 50 minutes in the opening set by light rain, with Nadal looking displeased to be forced from his workplace by the weather.

Out again, he got straight back to work, setting up the opening set with a break for 5-4 and starting the second with a break which paced the way to victory.

"I lost a little bit of concentration with the weather interruption, that''s the only part of the match that I''m not happy with," said the Spaniard.

Ferrero made a late stand, saving two match points in the penultimate game before Nadal concluded with a service winner after 95 minutes.

"With the wind, it was very difficult to be aggressive," said Ferrero. "But I tried. After an hour, I felt a bit more tired and I couldn''t push all the time that I was doing at the beginning.

"I had to be very aggressive with my forehand if I wanted to win the match, try to move him a lot to get him a little bit tired - I didn''t do it."

Ferrero came to the event a strong contender after lifting the title in 2002 and 2003 and winning back-to-back clay titles in February in the Americas.

The veteran lost only his second match this season on clay against 17 wins.