NEW YORK — It’s as though Rafael Nadal never left.
If anything, he’s playing better than ever.
A year after skipping the U.S. Open because of a bad knee, Nadal powered his way back to the semifinals at Flushing Meadows, overwhelming 19th-seeded Tommy Robredo, 6-0, 6-2, 6-2, on Wednesday night.
“I think I played my best match at the U.S. Open this year. Great to be able to play your best match in the quarterfinals,” Nadal said.
The second-seeded Nadal improved to 20-0 on hard courts in 2013, part of an overall record of 58-3 with nine titles, including his record eighth championship at the French Open in June. At the next Grand Slam tournament, though, Nadal flopped, exiting in the first round at Wimbledon.
That surprising defeat, against a guy ranked 135th, came on June 24. Feels like eons ago. Nadal hasn’t lost a match to anyone since. His 12 major trophies include the 2010 U.S. Open, and he has reached at least the semifinals the past five times he entered the tournament. Nadal was not in New York in 2012, part of an absence of about seven month from competition mainly because of a left-knee problem.
On Saturday, Nadal will face No. 8 Richard Gasquet, who edged No. 4 David Ferrer, 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, a match that took nearly 31/2 hours, and was filled with ebbs and flows. Gasquet reached his first major semifinal in six years.
Nadal, meanwhile, was never challenged by Robredo, who was coming off a fourth-round upset of 17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer. That stunning result scuttled the possibility of a Nadal-Federer showdown, which would have been the rivals’ 32nd meeting on tour but first at the U.S. Open.
Robredo had been 0-10 against Federer before finally beating him Monday. Perhaps that allowed Robredo to enter Wednesday thinking he’d have a chance against Nadal, despite an 0-6 mark in their previous matches.
So much for that. This one lasted 1 hour, 40 minutes, but it was really over after 22 minutes. That’s how long it took Nadal to dominate the first set, winning every game and 24 of 29 points.
Now Nadal becomes Gasquet’s problem. They’ve played 10 times on tour, and Nadal has won all 10.
“Last time I beat him, I was 13,” Gasquet said, referring to a junior match he looked up on YouTube. “It was a long time ago.”
When Nadal was told that, he smiled broadly.
“Yeah, I think I lost 6-4 in the third,” Nadal said. “Yeah, I remember.”
The other two men’s quarterfinals are Thursday, with No. 1 Novak Djokovic against No. 21 Mikhail Youzhny, and No. 3 Andy Murray against No. 9 Stanislas Wawrinka. Murray beat Djokovic in last year’s U.S. Open final.
The women’s semifinals Friday will feature No. 1 Serena Williams against No. 5 Li Na, and No. 2 Victoria Azarenka against Flavia Pennetta.
Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champ and last year’s U.S. Open runner-up to Williams, beat 48th-ranked Daniela Hantuchova, 6-2, 6-3, on Wednesday.
The 83rd-ranked Pennetta, who missed the 2012 U.S. Open because of right-wrist surgery, reached her first Grand Slam semifinal with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over 10th-seeded Roberta Vinci.