Rafael Nadal won his Monte Carlo Masters semi-final against Grigor Dimitrov

Rafael Nadal won his Monte Carlo Masters semi-final against Grigor Dimitrov

"Hopefully it won't just be a great birthday, but a great year". Who will reach the final? It is the sixth time that Nadal has advanced to the tournament's championship match without dropping a set. Of those eleven meetings, he has emerged victorious just once. Dimitrov fought gamely in the first set, but cracked after Nadal went ahead 5-4. He earned a spot in the 20-horse Derby field by virtue of leading the point standings among Europe-based horses. The Spaniard now leads their head-to-head 7-2. The next two games were even, with Dimitrov matching Nadal in the rallies.

"Being in 12 finals already here is something difficult to imagine", said Nadal, who has lost only one, to Djokovic in 2013.

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The fourth-seeded Bulgarian beat No. 6 David Goffin 6-4, 7-6 (5) in an error-strewn match.

Austrian fifth seed Dominic Thiem beat Novak Djokovic to set up a quarter-final against Nadal on Friday.

Thiem, a two-time French Open semi-finalist, was the better player for much of his match against Djokovic and won 6-7 (2/7), 6-2, 6-3.

Zverev collapsed on the clay, his arms outstretched in relief. Thiem was struggling, but Nadal barely missed a shot in a nearperfect opening set that he wrapped up with another strong return.

Nadal was taking the huge blows from Thiem with ease early on and that quickly led to the break.

How do they match up?

He was asked if top players exchange information regarding similar injury recoveries, to which Nadal revealed the conversation he had with Murray. Gasquet trudged to the net and got a warm hug from the imposing German. Dimitrov will have to avoid this pattern.

"I think he's on the rise again, for sure", said Thiem. For Dimitrov, whose backhand is more of a weakness than Thiem's, is doubly vulnerable. He is off to a message-sending start on clay, with Davis Cup beatdowns of Philipp Kohlschreiber and Alexander Zverev followed by a pair of Monte-Carlo routs (also one against Aljaz Bedene).

The Japanese player has struggled with a right wrist injury that forced him to miss the last four months of last season but has looked back to his best in Monte Carlo. As it stands, all six of the top six seeds are into the quarterfinals at the Monte-Carlo Masters. Racing as a profession continues to confound many, and racers have been traditionally misunderstood.

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