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Davydenko, Nadal in Barcelona semifinals

THIRD seed Nikolay Davydenko rallied for a 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-2 victory over Radek Stepanek yesterday to reach the Barcelona Open semifinals.

Davydenko recovered from early mistakes in the first set, but wasted three set points as Stepanek used crafty net play to frustrate his opponent and force the tiebreaker. The Czech player hit one of his seven aces to secure the first set.

But Stepanek then crumbled behind a slew of unforced errors, and Davydenko broke to take a 3-2 lead and then used another break to clinch the second set.

The Russian used strong returns to break twice more in the third to set up a meeting with the top-ranked Rafael Nadal of Spain.

Nadal, who has a 3-2 record against Davydenko and 2-0 on clay, reached the semifinals without having to play yesterday, after his quarterfinal opponent David Nalbandian withdrew on Thursday with a right hip injury.

The Spaniard is vying to follow up his fifth straight Monte Carlo Masters trophy with a fifth straight title at Barcelona.

In another quarterfinal, fourth seed David Ferrer eased past sixth seed Tommy Robredo 6-3, 6-3 in an all-Spanish matchup and will meet the winner of the clash between second seed Fernando Verdasco of Spain and Chile's Fernando Gonzalez.

World No. 1 Nadal thrashed unseeded Belgian Christophe Rochus 6-2, 6-0 on Thursday.

Nalbandian had booked his quarterfinal place with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Spanish 10th seed Nicolas Almagro but tournament doctor Angel Ruiz-Cotorro said the Argentine sustained an inflammation of the right hip and had to withdraw from the event.

"He is not in the right condition to contest a match of the intensity of a quarterfinal," Ruiz-Cotorro said.

The injury deprives Nadal of the chance to level the head-to-head record between the pair at 2-2.

In their last meeting, in March, Nadal saved five match points before coming through 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-0 in a classic fourth-round encounter at the Indian Wells Masters.


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