BEIJING • Rafael Nadal got some fibre from a tennis ball lodged in his eye but that did not stop the world No. 1 setting up a China Open semi-final today with "great guy" Grigor Dimitrov.
The Spaniard tamed the big-serving American John Isner 6-4, 7-6 (7-0) yesterday to set up the clash with the third-seeded Bulgarian.
Dimitrov booked his place in the last four on Beijing's outside hard courts with a 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-2 victory over another Spaniard, Roberto Bautista Agut.
Nadal revved up a gear to surge through the tie-break in the second set, although there was concern at one point during the second set when he appeared to be suffering an eye problem.
"Just something came to my eye, that's all," said the 31-year-old, who is chasing a sixth title this year.
"I think it was just a hair or something, a hair from the tennis ball. It was bothering me for a while.
"Not important, (but) I am still feeling (it) a little bit by the way," the 16-time Grand Slam champion, who attempted to wash the suspected fibre out with water, added with a smile.
He will face a familiar figure in Dimitrov. The pair practised together at Nadal's base in Mallorca before the US Open, where the Spaniard won the title for a third time this year. They even went fishing together, but Nadal said they will have their game faces on today.
"At the end of the day we are competitors. We go on court and we try our best and we want to win," he said. "Of course, he is a player that I really have like a good friend on the tour. He's a great guy."
Also into the semi-finals is the Australian Nick Kyrgios, who was up 6-0 and 3-0 when Belgian qualifier Steve Darcis retired.
Kyrgios will face second-seeded Alexander Zverev after the German defeated Russia's Andrey Rublev 6-2, 6-3.
The players are not the only ones winning Chinese hearts. Foreign umpires have been unintentionally entertaining the crowds and earning hearty applause with their attempts at pidgin Mandarin.
Some of the officials, who come from a range of countries, are using very basic Mandarin for the first time at the Beijing tournament to give instructions to the ball boys, ball girls and unruly spectators.
Among the words they have learnt is the equivalent of towel to remind the ball boys and girls when players need a wipe-down and then saying "xiexie" (thanks).
Spectators in the Chinese capital have lapped it up, applauding or cheering each attempt - and having a giggle when the pronunciation is a bit off.
Ashraf Hamouda, chief of umpires at the China Open, said some of the 16 non-Chinese umpires had taken it upon themselves to learn the language for the first time.
"They have books and they try to learn the language, they are interested to know Chinese," he said.
"It's not a must, but saying in Chinese 'pass the towel, pass the ball or ball change', they find things happen quicker on the court and communication is easier," he said.
ATP CHINA OPEN
S-finals: StarHub Ch201, 4.30pm & 9pm