Nadal ends Dimitrov's challenge
Rafael Nadal had to be at his best to overcome an inspired Grigor Dimitrov 6-4 6-7(4) 6-3 in the quarter-finals of the Rolex Shanghai Masters
The world No.1 bagged the 870th victory of his 16-year career to equal the number of wins achieved by Andre Agassi - but it was far from straightforward against the Bulgarian.
Dimitrov pushed Nadal to three sets in their semi-final clash at the China Open in Beijing last week, and he came even closer to securing an upset on this occasion.
It was an engrossing spectacle between two finely-tuned athletes and the spectators were treated to a shotmaking extravaganza.
It was the Spaniard who made the first meaningful move in the ninth game of the opener. Locked at four apiece, Dimitrov was under intense pressure and he dropped serve after his opponent nailed a forehand winner down the line.
Nadal, brimming with confidence, served out the set with a aplomb and it was difficult to foresee an avenue back into the match for his rival.
Dimitrov, aided by some extra aggression, began to punch his way through Nadal’s famous defence in the second set. His forehand was a source of encouragement and he managed to reach a tiebreak unschathed.
Nadal stormed into a 3-0 lead in the shootout and he was closing in on a spot in the last four at a tournament he is yet to conquer. Dimitrov was unwilling to go quietly though, and he roared back into contention after some purposeful play.
The Spaniard had been pegged back on the scoreboard and he was unable to contain his on-song opponent. The 31-year-old uncharacteristically slammed two forehands in the net and a deciding set was called into action.
Dimitrov faded badly in the third set of his previous meeting with Nadal and he was keen to avoid a similar fate. He stayed with his illustrious opponent in the early stages, however a lapse in concentration in the sixth game proved costly.
With a break in his pocket, Nadal cruised beyond the winning post to make it 10 wins from 11 duels with the Bulgarian.
Marin Cilic stands between the Spaniard and a place in the final. The Croatian enjoyed a comfortable 6-3 6-4 success over Albert Ramos-Vinolas and he is almost certain to be involved at next month’s World Tour Finals.
"I'm very confident I will qualify," said Cilic, when asked about London. "I mean, mathematically there is obviously a chance that I can be bumped out if I don't win, for example, tomorrow, but overall I'm playing well.”