Viña del Mar: Nadal d. Chardy

by: Richard Pagliaro | February 09, 2013

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It was standing room only in Viña del Mar, but that didn’t stop Rafael Nadal from trying to stake out a seat for Jeremy Chardy.

Hooking a slice serve into the corner of the box that darted left with runaway sidespin, Nadal bounced into the court to pounce on a short reply with punishing intentions. Nadal crunched his trademark inside-out forehand at such an acute angle, Chardy was nearly sent sprawling into the front row after flicking a sliding forehand in a desperate attempt to prolong the point. It was a brief reprieve.

Waiting near net, Nadal knocked a high forehand volley winner into the vacated court to seal the opening set. That sequence typified tonight’s semifinal: Even when Chardy went to great lengths to extend the top seed, Nadal refused to let him gain any ground.

The top-seeded Nadal spent much of the match displacing Chardy in a 6-2, 6-2 sweep to power into his first final since he captured his record-setting seventh French Open championship last June.

Playing his second straight Viña del Mar semifinal, Chardy played catch-up from the start in his first meeting with the king of clay. Nadal, who shrugged off three double faults and two break points to hold his opening service game, broke twice in succession, snaked an ace out wide for 40-0 and when Chardy shanked a forehand wide, the former No. 1 had a firm 4-0 lead.

Chardy upset Juan Martin del Potro at the Australian Open last month, using his slice backhand to drag the 6’6” Argentine forward at times where he banged forehands by the big man. But Chardy was too preoccupied sliding around in corner-to-corner sprints against Nadal to engage in too much creativity tonight. Once Nadal worked the sharp angle in running rallies, Chardy found himself playing chase-and-run and as the match wore on he tried to squeeze low-percentage drives down the line to shorten points.

Serving for the first set at 30-all, Nadal spun a second serve into the box. Rather than hitting a deep return to establish position and set up the point, Chardy pulled the trigger prematurely whacking a wild forehand wide. You could understand the Frenchman’s aversion for point construction in the ensuing exchange after seeing Nadal nearly send him into the seats in futile pursuit of set point.

The 26th-ranked Chardy held at love to open the second set only to see Nadal, who hit through his forehand with conviction, reel off 12 of the next 13 points for a 3-1 lead. The lanky Chardy responded by stringing together eight straight points and held triple break point to get back on serve. But successive Chardy errors followed by a sharp slice serve from Nadal that elicted a return into net erased all three break points. Nadal held for 4-2 and never looked back.

Working the wide serve more effectively than he did in his early-round wins, Nadal put together shot combinations with precision to spread the court. Nadal moved well, though given Chardy's inability to extend points, the rallies were usually brief. Nadal sealed his second match point with an ace then raised a clenched fist to his box.

It was Nadal's 41st consecutive clay-court semifinal victory. Nadal carries a 36-4 clay-court final record into tomorrow's title match against 73rd-ranked Argentine Horacio Zeballos. In their lone prior meeting, Nadal surrendered just seven games sweeping Zeballos at the 2010 French Open. Nadal, who has swept six matches in five days, will follow the singles final by playing for his ninth career doubles title when he partners Juan Monaco against Italians Paolo Lorenzi and Potito Starace.

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