By Julien Pretot
MONTE CARLO (Reuters) - Rafael Nadal left no doubt that he would be the overwhelming favorite at next month's French Open after crushing Spanish compatriot David Ferrer 6-2 6-3 in the Monte Carlo Masters semi-finals on Saturday.
After needing just 75 minutes to dismiss Ferrer, Nadal took the time to sign a few balls and fire them into the delighted crowd as the first sunbeams pierced through on a mostly cloudy day at the Monte Carlo Country Club.
"I am playing very well," Nadal told reporters.
"The last two games, I was a little bit more nervous than usual because I lost two semi-finals in a row, in Indian Wells and Miami. But for the rest, I played a very complete match."
The Mallorcan, who had an unbeaten record at the French Open until his shock fourth round defeat last year, lost the first game on Saturday to love.
He then saved a break point in the second game before turning on the engine and racing to a 5-1 lead, with Ferrer unable to control his opponent's devastating forehand.
Nadal even seemed to feel sorry for Ferrer, apologizing to his compatriot after clinching the sixth game with a delightful backhand lob.
Grunting in agony, Ferrer won the seventh game to love but conceded the opening set as he sent a backhand long.
The 11th seed smashed his racket on to his foot twice in frustration after he failed to capitalize on a rare moment of weakness by Nadal in the second game of the second set.
Ferrer triggered a loud roar from the full capacity crowd when he broke back for 2-2, but the feat took too much out of the world number 17.
As the clock ticked on to the hour, Nadal reclaimed his advantage with a jaw-dropping forehand winner down the line. Ferrer flagged at that point, serving a couple of double faults in the seventh game to give the claycourt master a 5-2 lead.
In his final throes of agony, Ferrer pulled a break back but bowed out on his own serve, netting a routine forehand on the second match point.
Briatore also witnessed Djokovic's demolition by Verdasco.
The Serb, who was hoping for a re-run of last year's final against Nadal, was completely outplayed from the baseline in a one-sided contest.
"I made his win much easier because I made so many unforced errors," said Djokovic. "But on the positive side, it's a semi-final.
"After the performances I had in Miami and Indian Wells, this is great. I have to consider this as a success and move on," added the world number two who had won just two matches in total at the last two Masters events.
Verdasco did not even have to try too hard, taking full advantage of Djokovic's error-riddled game. The Spaniard, who has a miserable 0-9 record against Nadal, broke twice in the opening set when Djokovic double faulted and netted a backhand.
The Serb looked to be back in the contest when he broke back for 2-2 in the second set as Verdasco skied a backhand into the stands, but his hopes were quickly dashed.
A superb crosscourt backhand winner gave Verdasco another break and the world number 12 never looked back, setting up the first all Spanish final in Monte Carlo since 2002, when Juan Carlos Ferrero beat Carlos Moya.
"The best surface to play him (Nadal) would be grass or hardcourt," Verdasco said as he looked forward to his first Masters final.
"But it will here on clay and I cannot change that. I will try and handle this as best as I can. I will take my chances although he does not give many chances on this surface."
(Editing by Alan Baldwin and Pritha Sarkar)