Spain's Nadal moves closer to 4th Madrid title

Madrid, May 10 (EFE).- Spain's Rafael Nadal defeated countryman Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 6-3 in Saturday's semifinals to move one step closer to his fourth title at the Madrid Open.

The 45th-ranked Bautista Agut got off to a nervous start and went down 3-1, but he settled down to get the first set back on serve and had several chances to move ahead 4-3.

The world No. 1, however, got the momentum back on his side to take the first set in 51 minutes and then race out to a 3-0 lead with two service breaks in the second set.

Bautista Agut took advantage of some defensive play by the world No. 1 to make the score respectable but Nadal lifted his game at the end to get a third service break of the set and wrap up the contest in one hour and 43 minutes.

"Every day I've been playing better, with more rhythm," the 27-year-old Nadal said afterward.

"The important thing is to be in the final. My form is the least important thing. Every day I win there's the satisfaction of being able to compete the following day."

Nadal also praised his 26-year-old countryman's level of play.

"Roberto's making impressive progress. I want to congratulate him and hope he keeps going because he's one of the youngest (Spaniards) coming up and he's improving every year, and this year he's going to have a very high position" in the ATP rankings.

Nadal has uncharacteristically struggled thus far in the European clay-court season, losing in the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Masters and the Barcelona Open to fellow Spaniards David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro, respectively.

But he has looked in much better form in reaching the final of the Madrid Masters, a tournament he won in 2005 when it was played on indoor hard courts and has won twice - in 2010 and 2013 - since it began being played on outdoor clay in 2009.

The Spaniard, who has drawn even with American former great Andre Agassi by reaching his 90th ATP Tour-level final, tied for seventh all time, will next face either Ferrer or Japan's Kei Nishikori in Sunday's final.

In women's singles semifinal action Saturday, Romania's Simona Halep continued to assert her status as a top player by rallying to defeat Czech Petra Kvitova 6-7 (4-7), 6-3, 6-2.

The fifth-ranked Halep will square off in Sunday's final against Russian world No. 9 Maria Sharapova, who routed third-ranked Pole Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 6-4.

The Madrid tournament is one of the biggest clay-court events on the ATP and WTA calendars and a major tune-up for the French Open, which gets underway on May 25.