Paris:Rafael Nadal eliminated defending champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-5, 7-5 with his best tennis of the week to set up a semifinal against Novak Djokovic at the Paris Masters on Friday.
Djokovic made the Paris last four for the first time by beating French Open runner-up Robin Soderling 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.
Gael Monfils gave French fans hope of another home champion by reaching his first Paris semifinals in defeating Marin Cilic 3-6, 6-4, 6-4. Monfils will play former finalist Radek Stepanek, who saved precious energy after U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro retired when trailing 4-0 because of a groin injury from his previous match.
Nadal, whose year has been disrupted by injuries, ended Tsonga's hopes of qualifying for the eight-man ATP World Tour Finals in London next week. Spain's Fernando Verdasco completed the draw.
"It was a very important victory for me," Nadal said. "It's probably the first big victory after I came back from injury."
Nadal returned to competition in October after a month off with a pulled stomach muscle. He reached the semifinals at Beijing, then the final at Shanghai where he lost to Nikolay Davydenko. His last title on the tour was in May at the Rome Masters.
Although Nadal leads Djokovic 14-5 on head to head, the Spaniard was impressed by the Serb's victory over top-ranked Roger Federer in the Swiss Indoors final last week.
"He is the best player in this part of the season," Nadal said. "It's going to be a good test. I know he is the favorite on this kind of surface."
Third-ranked Djokovic, for his part, gave No. 2 Nadal due respect.
"(Nadal) is a big champion and plays really well on all surfaces. He is a big fighter," Djokovic said.
Nadal, a finalist here two years ago, was taken to three sets twice en route to the quarterfinals. But the Spaniard played with authority on the decisive points against Tsonga, who made 37 unforced errors.
"I started the tournament playing almost terrible and now I'm in the semifinals," Nadal said. "Today I was really focused all the time and I played really well at the important moments."
Nadal struggled on his serve early in the first set but managed to save five break points - including holding for 3-3 after going down 0-40.
He gradually found his rhythm and put Tsonga under pressure with strong returns, before breaking the Frenchman with a passing shot to lead 6-5 and clinched the set with a forehand winner.
Nadal gradually wore down Tsonga in the second set, breaking for 6-5 when Tsonga missed two consecutive backhands.
"This match is exactly like my whole year," Tsonga said. "I have all the shots. I have the opportunity ... for finishing the point, and I don't finish it."
Nadal slipped to No. 2 in the rankings after being forced to relinquish his Wimbledon crown without playing because of knee tendinitis. He still has a slim chance of regaining the No. 1 spot at the end of the season.
"No. 1 is almost impossible," he said. "I have to win here if I want to have a chance. We'll see."
The ninth-seeded Soderling also fell out of contention for the ATP finals with his loss.
Djokovic is looking for his fifth title of the year in Paris.
"It looked tense (against Soderling) because physically I didn't really feel 100 percent," said Djokovic, who clinched his fifth straight win against the Swede. "I just hope I can recover for the upcoming challenge."
Soderling recovered from a break down to level at 4-4 but was immediately lost his serve to love and broke his racket in disgust after Djokovic went on to take the set.
Soderling's strong forehands put him 2-0 up in the second set and the Swede broke again before serving out the set. The players held their serves in a tense third until the eighth game, when Soderling made two unforced errors and double-faulted to give Djokovic three break points. Soderling sent a backhand into the net on the second and Djokovic held on.
Monfils served 13 aces and entertained his home crowd with spectacular winners from all parts of the court on his way to victory over Croatia's Cilic in 2 hours, 22 minutes.
"He's got tall legs and I had to play some drop shots to make him move," said Monfils. "I'm happy because I managed to enter his brain.
"I don't feel tired," said 15th-seeded Monfils, who captured his second ATP title in late September in Metz. "Maybe I can dream about another title."