Sharapova’s contentment has been visible throughout the week. She had an anecdote ready for the local news media about calling an Uber after being spotted by a paparazzo outside a pizzeria, and even worked up the nerve to ask Rafael Nadal to hit with her for a few minutes as her practice time followed his on court.
“You’ve got to hit a couple balls with Rafa on clay, you know?” she said. “It’s like a check on the bucket list, definitely. I was so nervous. I was tight, really tight.”
Nadal also won a quarterfinal match Friday, beating the top Italian, Fabio Fognini, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.
Nadal, who was forced out of a long string of tournaments by injury between October and March, has resumed his dominance on his beloved clay, winning titles last month in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. Friday’s first set was only the third he had lost on clay in the last 12 months.
“My clay court season has been, I think, fantastic,” Nadal said. “Two victories, one quarterfinals, and now semifinals. I can’t complain.
“Of course, it will be much better if I finish here with another title. And I’m really going to try.”
In the semifinals, Nadal will face Novak Djokovic, who ousted Kei Nishikori, 2-6, 6-1, 6-3. It will be their 51st meeting on tour, the most between any two players in ATP history, though they have not faced each other in a year.
Djokovic leads their head-to-head by 26-24, but acknowledged he would be a clear underdog against Nadal on clay, which he called “the ultimate challenge.” Mired in a slump, Djokovic has not played a semifinal match in 11 months.
“I know he’s in great form,” Djokovic said. “But, look, anything is possible.”