Rio de Janeiro: Top-ranked Rafael Nadal survived a scare at the Rio Open on Saturday, fighting off two match points before defeating fellow Spaniard Pablo Andujar 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (10) to advance to the final.
Nadal will next face Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine, who upset second-seeded David Ferrer 6-4, 6-4 on Rio's outdoor clay.
Nadal has been almost unbeatable on clay in his career, compiling a 297-21 record, the best in the Open era. His last loss on the surface was 10 months ago against Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters.
But this was not his night as he needed nearly three hours to defeat Andujar. Nadal is returning from a back injury he sustained in the final of the Australian Open four weeks ago - a match he lost to Stanislas Wawrinka.
"I felt empty the whole match," he said. "It was very humid, and this was the toughest day of all. I just didn't feel that great physically, and I'm not talking about the back. I just didn't feel that great.
"It was close because he played well, and I didn't play my best," Nadal added.
Nadal acknowledged his victory was lucky.
"The tiebreak was a lottery," he said. "But I played better in the tiebreak than the rest of the match."
Andujar had two match points in the third-set tiebreaker but couldn't convert either.
"I played one of the best matches of my life," he said. "Maybe the best. But I had a great one across (the net) from me."
Dolgopolov, who had beaten Ferrer only once in seven previous matches, won handily and didn't flinch.
"I always have these type matches with him, and usually at the end he would beat me," the Ukrainian said. "I knew I'd have to make those shots. If you don't win the points against him, he takes it away. I'm really happy I didn't get tight and give away a lot of shots."
Dolgopolov has won two previous ATP titles. Ferrer won the Copa Claro last weekend in Buenos Aires, his third consecutive title in that clay-court event. He has 21 ATP titles.
In the women's tournament, top-seeded Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic and fifth-seeded Kurumi Nara of Japan will face off in the final. Zakopalova defeated local hope Teliana Pereira 6-2, 6-1, and Nara won over Nastassja Burnett of Italy 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.
Zakopalova will be aiming for her third WTA singles title. She won two in 2004, and has since been a losing finalist 11 times. This will be Nara's first WTA singles final.
"I'm very surprised because it's on a clay court," said Nara, a university student who prefers hard courts.