Nadal, bidding for an unprecedented ninth straight trophy at an event which he has dominated, was given a huge fright by Dimitrov, who fell victim to leg cramp in the closing moments of a thriller lasting just over two hours.
One of the closest calls of Nadal’s clay career ended as the Spaniard won his 45th straight Monte Carlo match. He lost a set here for only the third time since 2009. Nadal admitted that he did not play at his best: “I didn’t play tennis for seven months,” said he recent knee injury victim. “I’m losing little bit intensity of the match for moments.
“That’s normal after being a lot of time outside of the competition. I played for a month, then I stopped for another month. I need time to play with top rhythm all the match. “I was playing great at the first set, playing my best level. So that’s the most important thing.”
While admitted to some taping on his back, Nadal did not delve into detail on that apparent injury. “I’m happy to be in the semi-finals, I played the best with what I had. It’s normal have problems on the back, on the shoulder, on the elbow,” he said.
Dimitrov, feeling his left thigh, managed to save a Nadal match point with a rifling winner down the line which left him doubled over in pain. A few moments later, Nadal fired over his second ace of a dramatic afternoon to take the win. Nadal, whose only loss here came back in 2003, produced some 36 unforced errors while the 34th-ranked Dimitrov struck 28 winners.
Nadal will now have to prepare for a semi-final against confident Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.