PARIS (CNN) — Rafael Nadal remains on course for a record seventh French Open title after he dismissed the challenge of fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro to notch up his 50th Roland Garros victory.
The world No.2 triumphed 7-6, 6-2, 6-3 over the 12th seed as he goes in search of the 11th grand slam title in his illustrious career.
Standing between Nadal and a seventh Paris final is another Spaniard, David Ferrer, after the No. 6 seed beat Britain’s Andy Murray 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2.
The former world No. 1 has lost only once at the French Open since making his debut as an 18-year-old in 2005.
“I was lucky in the last set,” Nadal told reporters. “He had a few opportunities on my serve to have a break, then with my second or third chance I managed to close the match.”
Should Nadal secure his seventh title he will go one better than legendary Swede Bjorn Borg, who has six. He will also match Bjorg’s record of 11 career grand slam titles.
Murray, who said he was satisfied with his performance in the tournament despite going out to a player seeded two places below him, said Nadal is the favorite to win.
He told reporters: “I think the four best clay court players in the world are left in and whoever plays best will win. Probably have to favor Rafa slightly, but everyone is playing very, very well.”
Ferrer’s victory ensured he made the final four of the French Open for the first time in his career, a surprise statistic for someone who is renowned as a clay court specialist.
He said his four-set win over Murray was grueling, but good preparation for his showdown with Nadal, who he labeled the best player on clay ever.
“Tonight’s match was very hard, physically very difficult,” he said. “But I am happy to be in the semifinals at Roland Garros for the first time.
“It will be a tough match against Rafa, he’s the best in history on this surface, but I hope to have a good match.”
Murray’s disappointment was evident on court, as he made 59 unforced errors during the match and seemed to be troubled by a series of injuries.
On the women’s side, Maria Sharapova remains on course to complete a career slam after she set up a French Open semifinal showdown with Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.
The Russian dispatched Kaia Kanepi, from Estonia, 6-2, 6-3 and now needs just two more victories to join an exclusive club in the game who have won all four grand slam titles.
The world No. 2 has reached the final four at Roland Garros twice before and beat Kvitova, from the Czech Republic, in the semifinals in Stuttgart — a tournament she went on to win.
But Kvitova’s only grand slam win to date came at last year’s Wimbledon tournament, when she beat Sharapova in straight sets in the final.
“It’s nice to be in this position again,” Sharapova told the WTA Tour’s official website. “It’s my third time in the semifinals here.
“Petra’s an extremely tough opponent, someone I have had good success in our last couple of meetings, but they’re always tough matches.
“The last one in Stuttgart was a tough two-setter for me — she had opportunities in that second set and when she’s confident, she’s dangerous. It’s going to be another level. I hope I can raise my level, as well.”
None of the four French Open semifinalists has tasted success in Paris, but Sharapova has the most major championships to her name, with three overall.
The Russian never looked in any trouble against Kanepi, breaking her opponent seven times en route to a swift victory, and the 26-year-old admitted she could not live with Sharapova’s power.
“She attacked all the time, I didn’t have any time to hit my shots and I just couldn’t get any rhythm out there,” Kanepi explained.
“I was also very nervous and I am just sorry I didn’t get to spend more time on the court. Maria is playing really well, she can win the tournament.”
Kvitova, the No. 4 seed, dropped the first set against qualifier Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan, who knocked out defending champion Li Na in the previous round, but battled back to win 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.
It ended Shvedova’s hopes of becoming the first qualifier ever to reach the Roland Garros semis, and propelled Kvitova closer to her second grand slam final appearance.