Rafael Nadal edged Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 Friday to win his 45th straight match at the Monte Carlo Masters and reach the semifinals.
Top-ranked Novak Djokovic had less trouble with Jarkko Nieminen, beating the Finnish veteran 6-4, 6-3. Djokovic won despite a balky right ankle, which the Serb twisted two weeks ago a during Davis Cup match against the United States.
"I didn't feel the ankle was bothering me today,'' Djokovic said. "We played a lot of long rallies. I'm really glad things are going in the right direction.''
In the semifinal, he'll face unseeded Fabio Fognini, who defeated Richard Gasquet 7-6 (0), 6-2.
Nadal will meet Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who beat Stanislas Wawrinka 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.
The Spaniard dropped only his third set in his last five tournaments here, the previous times against Andy Murray in the 2011 semifinals and Djokovic in the 2009 final. He was under pressure at 30-30 in the eighth game of the final set before hitting a crucial serve.
"I know that when you have these tough matches, is decisive to keep fighting,'' Nadal said. "If you keep fighting, you will lose some, but you will have a chance to win a lot of ones.''
The eight-time defending champion sealed victory on his second match point with an ace, after Dimitrov saved the first one with a forehand winner of astonishing power from the back of the court. It was even more impressive because he was struggling with a leg cramp.
"First of all, it's a tough loss. I think I gave everything I had today,'' Dimitrov said. "I must say, all credit to him. He's an extraordinary player, extraordinary fighter.''
As age17, Dimitrov took a set off Nadal at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam, Netherlands. On Friday, he thrilled the center-court crowd with a superb display of attacking tennis punctuated by exquisite drop shots and high-speed winners off both the backhand and forehand.
By regularly taking the ball early, Dimitrov unsettled Nadal's rhythm and the seven-time French Open champion was unable to dictate play.
"I think my game kind of unsettled him. I felt I was also moving well and I think he was surprised that I was moving well,'' Dimitrov said. "I actually wanted to play long rallies with him. He made a few mistakes here and there. "
After more than two hours of an intense contest, Dimitrov was limping, flexing his right leg and rubbing his left thigh.
"Last time I was cramping in the middle of the second,'' Dimitrov said. "That's progress.''
Dimitrov broke Nadal to move 4-2 up in the second set, and when he held for 5-2 there were nervous glances from Nadal up to his uncle Toni Nadal - who by then had taken off his sunglasses and was offering advice in a bid to reassure his nephew.
Sensing an upset, the crowd roared when Nadal's two-handed backhand flew into the net and Dimitrov evened the match.
"Even though I lost the first set, I didn't lose my composure on court, and that helped me win the second,'' Dimitrov said. "When the third started, I felt quite comfortable.''
Dimitrov got the crowd even more on his side with a blistering half-volley down the line early in the third, hitting it with such power and timing that it caught even Nadal off guard.
Dimitrov got a standing ovation when he saved the first match point, and Nadal's relief was evident when he won. After hitting the winning ace, Nadal threw both hands up in the air and celebrated almost like he had won the final.
"He's a great player and he has all the shots. He has everything to be a really, really good player. So depends on him,'' Nadal said. "I think he has a similar style (to Roger Federer). Everybody can see that.''
Wawrinka, who defeated second-seeded Murray on Thursday, appeared on the way to another win when he clinched the first set with a second-serve ace.
But Tsonga took a 4-1 lead in the second set, and tied the match after saving two break points.
Tsonga got the crucial break in the third set with a forehand pass down line and held for 5-3.
Wawrinka saved three match points in his next service game before Tsonga sealed the victory with an ace to reach his second semifinal of the season. His only title this year was in Marseille in February.