IMAGE: Rafael Nadal plays a backhand in his match against Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland during day six of the Melbourne Summer Set at Melbourne Park on Saturday. Photograph: Kelly Defina/Getty Images
Top seed Rafael Nadal held off a resurgent Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland on Saturday to earn a 6-4, 7-5 win and book his place in the final of the Melbourne Summer Set 1 ATP 250 event, where he will take on American qualifier Maxime Cressy.
The Spaniard, playing his first competitive tournament since August, was given a stern examination by the dogged Ruusuvuori before coming out unscathed in just under two hours at the Rod Laver Arena.
Both players were solid on serve in the opening exchanges before Nadal’s superior quality shone through as he secured a crucial break in the ninth game, eventually closing out the set with ease.
Ruusuvuori never allowed Nadal to settle in the second set, matching him from the baseline with a string of searing winners.
The world number 95 broke back at 3-5 but was left to rue a number of break point opportunities as Nadal did enough to secure the win.
“It’s an important comeback. Starting another season here in Australia, it means a lot,” said Nadal. “Of course, I need to do things better on court … but it’s step-by-step.”
Asked how his body was coping, the 20-times major winner added: “Good. Let’s see tomorrow … the body is holding well. I need these matches to improve. It’s about being patient and trying my best every single time.”
Former world number three Grigor Dimitrov was handed a 7-5, 7-6 (9) defeat by the big-serving Cressy, who fired 17 aces past the Bulgarian and won when he converted his fourth match point to advance to the final.
“I’m very pleased with my tennis,” said Cressy.
“Nothing happens by luck. I’m very proud of myself for staying focused the whole tournament so far. I played incredible today…”
Unseeded Cressy dominated the opening set but was drawn into a battle in the second set by his more experienced opponent.
Dimitrov’s tenacity denied Cressy on match point three times before he eventually succumbed, handing the American an 11-9 win in the tiebreak when he steered his shot wide.
Halep advances to final
Second seed Simona Halep beat China’s Zheng Qinwen 6-3, 6-2 to set up a meeting with Veronika Kudermetova in Sunday’s final of the women’s Melbourne Summer Set 1.
The former world number one was rarely troubled by the hard-hitting Zheng and will meet third-seeded Russian Kudermetova following top seed Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from their semi-final with an abdominal strain.
“It’s a great feeling to play in the final of the first tournament of the year,” said Romanian Halep.
“I think I played well today, we both played really well and it’s nice to see I can start this year pretty well because last year was not that easy.”
In the Melbourne Summer Set 2 tournament, Amanda Anisimova reached the final with a comprehensive 6-2, 6-0 win over number three seed Daria Kasatkina.
The 20-year-old American will take on Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich, who beat American Ann Li 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-3.
“I had a slow start yesterday (in the quarter-finals) and me my and team talked about it a little bit because I don’t want that happening again,” said Asinimova.
“So we just went out in the warm-up, had a little bit more of an intense warm-up today and I came out playing really well, so I’m really happy with how I played today.”
Barty storms past Swiatek to set up Adelaide final against Rybakina
IMAGE: Ashleigh Barty hits a backhand return against Iga Swiatek during day seven of the 2022 Adelaide International at Memorial Drive in Adelaide on Saturday. Photograph: Mark Brake/Getty Images
Australian world number one Ash Barty breezed past holder Iga Swiatek 6-2, 6-4 in their Adelaide International semi-final on Saturday to set up a showdown with Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina.
Barty, who won the tournament in 2020, was dominant from start to finish, winning 76.3% of her first serve points.
The 25-year-old took a 3-2 lead after getting the first break of the opening set and followed up with another break and a couple of love holds to take the first set.
The Australian carried her winning momentum into the second set, breaking early to take a 2-1 lead, and then successfully defending a break point to hold serve at 4-2.
Despite her best efforts, Poland’s fifth-seeded Swiatek could do little to stem Barty’s tide, eventually surrendering the match in one hour 27 minutes.
“This is unreal honestly. It’s so much fun playing out here tonight and Iga is an exceptional champion, she made me play my best tennis. There was not a lot in it,” Barty said.
“Each match this tournament I feel like I’ve got progressively better, hopefully there’s a little more left in the tank for tomorrow.”
Earlier on Saturday, seventh seed Rybakina put in a solid performance to beat Japan’s Misaki Doi 6-4, 6-3.
Rybakina went down a break in the second game of the first set, but immediately broke back. She then sent down five aces to claim the first set 6-4, before breaking Doi’s serve twice in the second to seal victory.
“It was tough. I started really slow, and my focus was up and down. She played so well, I’m just happy to win. My serve really helped me today,” Rybakina said.
In the men’s Adelaide ATP 250 event, French top seed Gael Monfils will meet second-seeded Russian Karen Khachanov in Sunday’s title match.
Former world number six Monfils beat local hope Thanasi Kokkinakis, who was on Friday handed a wildcard for the Australian Open men’s singles draw, 7-5, 6-0 to reach his 33rd Tour final.
Khachanov earlier defeated Croatia’s third-seeded Marin Cilic 7-6 (3), 6-3 to seal his spot in the showpiece clash.