By Matt Smith
DOHA (Reuters) - Top seed Rafael Nadal beat Russian Mikhail Youzhny 6-4 6-4 in a bruising encounter on Thursday to reach the semi-finals of the Qatar Open.
Nadal darted around the court to hit a series of blistering winners but his opponent refused to get overawed and broke the Spaniard in the second set.
However, Nadal survived the mini setback and showed he was ready to stake a claim for the Australian Open title later this month.
"I think I played really well," Nadal said in a courtside interview. "At the end of the match, it was a little bit nervous, which is normal for the start of the season.
"I was moving fast and I went to the net a lot of times. That's what I need to do if I want to compete with the really top players."
Nadal will play Frenchman Gael Monfils for a place in the final. The Frenchman beat Serbian fifth seed Viktor Troicki 6-2 6-3. Roger Federer will take on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the other last-four match.
After squandering two break points in the opening game against Youzhny, Nadal made no mistake on his next opportunity a couple of games later. He dragged Youzny into a gruelling rally and pumped his fists in delight as the tiring Russian slugged a backhand into the net.
In the second set, the Russian seventh seed was left frustrated as he failed to convert a string of break points. He allowed Nadal to gallop into a 4-1 lead as the Spaniard peppered the court with a series of sliced backhand and searing forehand winners.
Former top 10 player Youzhny clawed back one of the breaks after following up a delightful dropshot winner with a powerful forehand drive, which closed the gap to 4-5.
However, Nadal would not be denied and clinched victory with a volley winner.
(Reporting by Matt Smith, editing by Pritha Sarkar)