SHANGHAI -- Juan Martin del Potro beat Nicolas Almagro 6-3, 6-3 on Friday to reach the Shanghai Masters semifinals. Next up for the Argentine, who is a win away from qualifying for the ATP World Tour Finals, is No. 1 Rafael Nadal.
Given Nadal's high level in 2013, Del Potro says he'll have to play a flawless match to have a shot Saturday in his third ATP Masters 1000 semifinal of the year.
"Rafa is playing an unbelievable tennis this year ‑- and the past years, too," Del Potro said. "I mean, not many players can beat him."
Del Potro says he's recovered from the fever that almost struck him down in Shanghai. Coming off a title run at the Japan Open, Del Potro fell ill the night before his opening match in Shanghai and needed three sets to defeat Philipp Kohlschreiber.
Looking forward to their semifinal, Del Potro is 3-8 against Nadal, with all three wins coming on hard courts. However, Nadal has lost only four times this year, and just one of those losses was on hard courts, which came last week to Novak Djokovic in the China Open final. The Spaniard's hard-court success this year (he's now 29-1 after defeating Stanislas Wawrinka 7-6 (10), 6-1 in the Shanghai quarterfinals) has made everyone sit up and take notice.
"Maybe years ago if we coming to play in grass or indoors, maybe [you have] the little chance to win," Del Potro said. "But at this moment, Rafa is unbeatable. Maybe Djokovic or [Andy] Murray or many other players have to play hundred percent [to challenge him]. You have to have a perfect day with Rafa."
Nadal's hard-court success as a whole is not surprising. He's completed the career Grand Slam and won 15 hard-court titles in his career. That he has been able to thrive on the quicker hard courts such as Montreal, Cincinnati and now Shanghai has been more of surprise -- but not to Nadal himself.
"I like the fast courts, seriously," he said. "A lot of people always thought that because I had a lot of success on clay that I prefer to play in a slow court on hard. But that's something that is not true. If I am playing well, a little bit faster helps me more because I am able to win more free points with my serve."
Nadal was surprised to win Cincinnati, given his subpar history at the tournament, but he credits his renewed energy level for his success this week in Shanghai.
"Most of the times I arrived a little bit more tired mentally than other things," he said. "So important [is] every victory for me at this part of the season because normally I was not playing very well."