AFP - Top seed Rafael Nadal ousted Gilles Simon on Wednesday to set up an all-Spanish Australian Open semi with Fernando Verdasco -- and stay on course for a mouth-watering final with Roger Federer.
After Verdasco out-punched 2008 finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Nadal ground out a hard-earned win over another Frenchman, Gilles Simon, 6-2, 7-5, 7-5 for a last-four match-up with his fellow left-hander.
The world number one has now reached the semi-finals without dropping a set for the second consecutive season after losing to Tsonga in the last four a year ago.
"For us it's an incredible feat to have two Spanish players in the semi-final. One is going to be in the final so we have to be very happy with that," Nadal said.
"Verdasco is playing very well since he won the Davis Cup, he was in the final in Brisbane and he beat (Andy) Murray so I know it's going to be a very tough match."
Nadal, who has been French Open champion since 2005 and added the Wimbledon title last year, has now reached three hard-court Grand Slam semis in a row although he is yet to make a final.
The Spaniard remains on track for a title match with arch-rival Federer, the second seed who is also in superb touch as he seeks a record-tying 14th Grand Slam title. Federer will play Andy Roddick in the semi-finals.
Nadal, 22, broke in the first game and again at 3-1 before Simon took a break of serve of his own. But he manoeuvred the Frenchman expertly around the court for the third break and served the set out with an ace.
Simon double-faulted to go a break down early in the second set but hung in.
Momentum was shifting but Nadal grabbed it back as he survived a set point at 4-5 then brilliantly broke in the next game.
Simon secured the first break of the third set with an overhead smash but Nadal broke back and again for 6-5, then calmly served out the win.
"At the decisive moments he was far better than me," Simon said.
"He saved so many break points. Every time I had a chance he played better than me and hit a winner. He was just too good."
Earlier Verdasco halted stopped Tsonga 7-6 (7/2), 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final in 23 attempts after five appearances in the fourth round.
Verdasco, who earlier shocked fourth seed Murray, absorbed the shot-making and athleticism of the fifth seeded Frenchman and also proved far steadier at crucial moments.
"What I'm thinking right now is that I'm playing good, I'm feeling good," he said. "I just think that I can beat anyone.
Tsonga said he had a nightmare match after converting just two of 13 break opportunities.
"Today everything was wrong and every time I got the chance to break, I missed or Fernando played a good point," Tsonga said.
Verdasco, 25, has been in the form of his life since sealing the Davis Cup title for Spain in November, becoming an overnight sensation in his home country.
He revealed he had been taking advice from American great Andre Agassi, who won four of his seven Grand Slam titles here.
"(I talked to him) about a lot of things," Verdasco said.
"He was just giving me advice about what he thinks about all this, about what tournaments I need to play or which weeks I need to practice and be ready for the big tournaments."
Verdasco is the latest player to make a name for himself at this tournament after Tsonga ignited his injury-delayed career here a year ago.