Indian Wells, California:Defending champion Rafael Nadal defeated Tomas Berdych 6-4, 7-6 (4) on Thursday to reach the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open in his first tournament since returning from a six-week injury layoff.
Nadal used every inch of the court in beating Berdych for the sixth consecutive time. He mixed topspin with power off the forehand side, slipped in drop shots, and painted the corners with smashes.
"I'm playing a big forehand from baseline and going inside the court, being more aggressive," he said.
Nadal won the final three points of the tiebreaker that ended with Berdych netting a backhand. The Spaniard leaped for joy, trading the snarl he wore through most of the match for a smile.
"I played really well, especially the first set," Nadal said. "The first eight, nine games was an unbelievable level. Later the wind came and it was more difficult to play."
Nadal was hampered by knee injuries last summer that continued into the Australian Open in January, when he was forced to retire in the quarterfinals.
Jelena Jankovic rallied from a 2-4 second-set deficit to beat Russia's Alisa Kleybanova 6-4, 6-4 and reach the women's semifinals.
Jankovic won the final four games of the match, twice breaking Kleybanova, to extend her best showing of the year. Jankovic made the semifinals at Indian Wells in 2008, and went on to finish the year ranked No. 1 in the world.
But she struggled last year, prompting changes. She's pared down her playing schedule, lost weight, and dropped her coach earlier this month.
"I haven't been playing well," she said. "So it's nice to get that feeling back and to be winning again and be in the end of the tournament again."
At the start of the two-week event, the locker room was so crowded Jankovic could barely set her racket bag down. She arrived Thursday and found plenty of room.
"I like that feeling," she said. "I want to be at the end of the tournament where there's no one and there's only a couple of us standing. That means I'm doing well."
In the semifinals, Jankovic will play Australian Samantha Stosur, a 6-3, 7-6 (9) winner over Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain.
Their match ended awkwardly when Stosur challenged Sanchez's serve that had been called good. Sanchez thought Stosur was questioning the Aussie's return, and believed her challenge request wasn't made in time.
"She thought maybe it was a first serve or she got confused about something, but I wanted to challenge the serve and the serve was out, so it's a second serve," Stosur said. "It's a little bit more big a deal because it was match point."
Sanchez was also confused about the score in the tiebreaker.
"I was disappointed," she said. "I don't know what happened."
Stosur has yet to drop a set in four matches, and is projected to crack the top 10 for the first time in the WTA Tour rankings.
No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark and fifth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, who also hasn't dropped a set, will meet in the other semifinal.
Ivan Ljubicic of Croatia gave himself an early birthday present by defeating Juan Monaco of Argentina 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, setting up a semifinal against Nadal. Ljubicic turns 31 on Friday.
"I got a phone call from my brother just after the match. He said that in Croatian time zone I finish just like couple seconds before my birthday, so it's fantastic," he said.
Ljubicic had his serve broken just once _ in the first set _ and won eight of the final nine games, helped by 11 aces.
"I was a little bit upset after I lost that service game. Cost me the whole set. It was really the only bad game that I played in the whole match," he said. "But I was lucky enough to be able to break him early in the second. I felt really creative out there. I felt I could hit the ball anywhere."
After playing three consecutive night matches, Jankovic faced much different conditions during the day, with the sun in her eyes and the temperature in the upper 80s.
Kleybanova was within a point of taking a 5-2 lead on her serve in the second when the Russian double-faulted twice in a row and got broken.
Then Jankovic held at 4-4 and owned the momentum the rest of the way.
"Against Kleybanova it's really not easy to play your game because she plays those really flat shots and you never know where she's gonna hit it," Jankovic said. "It can throw you back at times."