The 11-time Monte Carlo champion Rafael Nadal had to work hard on Friday to avoid the fate of Novak Djokovic who was beaten in the previous match on the center court in the Principality, battling past Guido Pella 7-6, 6-3 in two hours and 20 minutes for the place in the 69th Masters 1000 semi-final.
This was the 71st win for Rafa at one of his favorite events from 75 matches and he had to give 120% to emerge at the top in the opener, toppling the Argentinian after 80 minutes with a rock-solid performance in the tie break once he reached it.
Entering the clash with 17 wins in 2019, a left-handed Argentinian gave his best to challenge the ultimate clay king, losing the previous two matches against Rafa and competing on a much higher level this time around to keep the defending champion on the court for almost two and a half hours.
Rafa has now won 25 straight sets in Monte Carlo and this was his 48th triumph on clay against the left-handed rivals, advancing into the 14th Monte Carlo semi-final in the last 15 years! Nadal won 14 points more than his opponent and had to work hard for every single one of them, with both players facing 13 break chances.
Losing serve four times in the opener, Nadal would have always bounced back, stealing Pella's serve seven times and suffering five breaks of serve to prevail in straight sets and avoid an even longer duel. The Spaniard had 35 winners and 31 unforced errors, leaving Guido on a 25-28 ratio and dominating in the most extended rallies to forge the triumph and stay on the title course.
Firing from all cylinders, Pella opened a 4-1 lead after breaking Rafa three times in a row, settling into a nice rhythm and looking good to perform a big surprise in the first part of the match. With his back pushed against the wall, Rafa pulled one break back in game six and another one at 3-4 with a forehand winner that leveled the score at 4-4 after nearly 50 minutes.
With no intention of slowing down, Pella broke again in game 11 but couldn't make the final push, allowing Rafa to break back and gain the momentum before the tie break that the defending champion claimed 7-1 with a smash winner.
Both players had their chances in set number two and it was Rafa who saved four out of five break points to mount the pressure on his opponent, breaking him three times to seal the deal and set the semi-final clash against Borna Coric or Fabio Fognini.