After dropping the first set in each of his first two matches, to Daniel Brands and Martin Klizan respectively, Nadal has looked more like the dominant player of years past in the last three rounds. He's certainly reaching peak form at the right time.
The victory sets up a semifinal clash with Novak Djokovic. The world's top-ranked player and winner of the season's first major, the Australian Open, needs a French Open championship to complete the career Grand Slam.
He reached the final last year, but could only take one set from Nadal. The Roland Garros rematch was expected ever since the draw was released and it's come to fruition. The Spaniard represents a hurdle he must jump to finally capture the elusive French title.
Based on the way Nadal played against Wawrinka, the top seed faces an uphill battle once again. Showcasing the movement and defense that's made him almost unbeatable on clay over the years, the 11-time major champion cruised through in straight sets.
Seeing the type of challenge he poses can be illustrated by Wawrinka's differential between winners (23) and unforced errors (40). Nadal keeps forcing opponents to hit big shots with very little margin and it tends to come back to haunt them.
At the same time, he can turn defense to offense as well as any player in the sport. It's no coincidence that he's had so much success on clay over the years. The surface matches his playing style perfectly.
For Wawrinka, the main storyline remains the same. The Swiss star is a very good player, probably better than he gets credit for due to the immense success of countryman Roger Federer, but he's just not on the same level as the top players.
The tournament marked just the third time he's reached the quarterfinals of a major. While he's maintained a constant presence in the third and fourth round, he just hasn't been able to get over the hump and elevate himself to the next level.
When he goes up against players like Nadal, they expose his lack of consistent shot making. Finding a way to change that is the only way he'll be able to make deep runs at Grand Slam events.
That said, the focus of the tennis world now shifts to Nadal against Djokovic for a spot in the final. Nadal leads the all-time series 19-15, but Djokovic did win their most recent encounter at the Monte Carlo Masters on clay.
The match everybody was waiting for has arrived.
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