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MADRID (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal swept into the last four of the Madrid Open when he thumped Tomas Berdych 6-4 6-2 on Friday to set up a semi-final against the tournament's surprise package, unseeded Spanish compatriot Roberto Bautista.
World number one Nadal has not been his dominant best on his favored clay this year, losing in the quarter-finals in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, but had a relatively easy ride against the outclassed Czech sixth seed, whom he has now beaten 18 times in 21 meetings on all surfaces and 17 times in a row.
The defending champion in the Spanish capital, Nadal broke the Berdych serve three times without losing his own and, with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic withdrawing and Andy Murray knocked out on Thursday, remains firmly on course for a fourth Madrid Masters crown.
Nadal said his performance was probably his best of the clay swing, good news for the Mallorcan as he gears up for a tilt at a record-extending ninth French Open crown later this month.
"It was a match with a lot of intensity and perhaps it was my toughest match until now in the tournament," Nadal told a news conference.
"To make it to the semi-finals for the first time in the clay season here in Madrid is great news for me," added the 27-year-old, who is chasing a 63rd career title and a 44th on clay.
"I just managed to go over a barrier in the quarter-finals with a complex opponent.
"I've been two weeks without doing that and I'm happy for that. Now I just need to make an extra effort.
"I have to keep on going along the line that I've been going, which is each day a little bit better."
Bautista, ranked 45, had never reached the last eight of a Masters event before this week and continued his dream run with an efficient performance against Murray's conqueror, 46th-ranked Colombian qualifier Santiago Giraldo.
A promising soccer player in his early teens, the unheralded 26-year-old Bautista has two top 10 wins this year, defeating number five Juan Martin Del Potro at the Australian Open and Berdych in Indian Wells.
In Friday's other quarter-finals, Spaniard David Ferrer, the fifth seed, plays unseeded Latvian Ernests Gulbis and 10th-seeded Japanese Kei Nishikori takes on another Spaniard, Feliciano Lopez.
It is the first time in the tournament's history, since 2002, that Spain has had four players in the last eight.
Nishikori will become the first Japanese to break into the top 10 with a win on Friday, unless Gulbis claims the title.
The last Asian man to rank in the top 10 was Thailand’s Paradorn Srichaphan on March 29, 2004 at number 10.
(Reporting by Iain Rogers, editing by Ed Osmond)