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Rafael Nadal tops Fernando Verdasco in straight sets, Mikhail Youzhny outlasts Stanislas Wawrinka to set up U.S. Open semifinal matchup

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 10, 2010; 12:49 AM

FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y. - With an evil wind gusting and a hard-hitting countryman across the net, Rafael Nadal faced the most daunting challenge yet Thursday in his quest to win the 2010 U.S. Open.

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And for the first 20 minutes of his quarterfinal against Fernando Verdasco, it looked as if the men's final that tennis fans long to see on Sunday, pitting top-ranked Nadal against five-time U.S. Open champion Roger Federer, might be derailed.

Verdasco declared himself a threat just three games into the match by breaking Nadal's serve - something no player had managed to do in Nadal's 62 previous service games.

But once Nadal found his bearings, a match that started out close turned into a rout, with Nadal advancing to his third consecutive U.S. Open semifinal with a 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 victory.

He'll face 12th-seeded Mikhail Youzhny, who halted Stanislas Wawrinka's surprising run, 3-6, 7-6 (9-7), 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, earlier Thursday.

The tournament's other men's semifinal will pit second-seeded Federer, a five-time U.S. Open champion, against third-seeded Novak Djokovic. Both will be contested Saturday afternoon, followed by the women's final that night.

Asked if he were prepared to become the villain in the eyes of tennis fans by spoiling a potential Nadal-Federer final, Youzhny smiled and said: "Yeah, I'm ready to be a bad person. I love to be a bad person in this case."

Federer, 29, and Nadal, 24, are arguably at the peak of their games, and their rivalry, which dates from 2004, has revitalized interest in men's tennis. Nadal holds a 14-7 career edge yet insists that Federer, who has won a record 16 major titles to Nadal's eight, is the superior player.

The two have never met at the U.S. Open. In fact, they've only played each other twice in the United States, splitting their meetings in Miami in 2004 and 2005.

While Nadal had yet to drop a set or lose his serve through four rounds of play, Thursday's all-Spanish quarterfinal held the prospect of turning into a marathon despite Nadal's 10-0 record against Verdasco entering the match. The last time the two met on hard courts, in the semifinals of the 2009 Australian Open, they played the longest men's singles match in tournament history (5 hours 14 minutes).

Verdasco seized the upper hand quickly, though clearly addled by the gusting wind on Ashe, which is more pronounced than on the secondary courts where he had played his previous matches.

Nonetheless, Verdasco blasted a backhand winner down the line to break Nadal's serve at love in the third game.

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