Nadal digs in to win in Doha
Rafael Nadal overcame a tricky test against Ernests Gulbis to advance to the semi-finals of the ATP Qatar ExxonMobil Open.
The final 7-5 6-4 scoreline doesn't do justice to how hard the Spaniard was made to work by Gulbis in a match that was delayed by two hours due to heavy rain in Doha.
Nadal came out on top in a tight opening set thanks to a break of serve in the 11th game, only to then quickly find himself 3-0 behind at the start of the second.
However, Gulbis was unable to hang onto the lead, wasting three points to go 4-1 up as his hopes of a first win over the top seed at the seventh time of asking disappeared. He lost six of the remaining seven games, the last of which was clinched with a breathtaking backhand volley winner.
"I'm happy to win against Ernests," Nadal, who has never previously won an ATP World Tour title in the first week of the season, said.
"If you are not playing well it's very, very difficult. He's able to hit winners from every part on the court."
Nadal - whose only previous straight sets win over Gulbis came at the same tournament back in 2011 - will now face Peter Gojowczyk for a place in the final.
Gojowczyk continued this fantastic run with a 6-3 3-6 7-6 (7/5) triumph over fellow German qualifier Dustin Brown, eventually getting over the line having missed the chance to serve out for the match when leading 5-3 in the decider.
"I'm so happy to be in the semi-finals, it's an unbelievably good feeling," said a player who had only ever won one match on the ATP Tour before arriving in Qatar. "2014 is beginning great for me."
The other half of the draw includes another German in Florian Mayer, who defeated Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-4 6-7 (10/8) 6-4 in another contest that went the full distance.
Gael Monfils is next up for Mayer, the Frenchman having brushed aside German Daniel Brands 6-2 6-1 in a one-sided match that lasted just 48 minutes.