Paris, Nov 4: Argentine David Nalbandian extended his brilliant run of form by crushing local favourite Richard Gasquet 6-2 6-4 today to set up a Paris Masters final against world number two Rafael Nadal.
The unseeded Nalbandian, who upset world number one Roger Federer in the Madrid Masters final two weeks ago and again in the third round here, needed just over an hour to take his record against the Frenchman to a perfect 5-0.
Gasquet, seeded 10th, will have to be content with completing the season-ending Masters Cup field after his only rival for the last spot, Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis, dropped out of the race with a 4-6 6-4 6-3 defeat by Nadal in the other semi-final.
''Two weeks ago, I couldn't imagine I would be going to Shanghai,'' Gasquet said. ''I'll go there without any pressure, with nothing to lose.'' Nalbandian, who crushed Nadal 6-1 6-2 in the quarter-finals in Madrid, is so impressive at the moment that he has to be regarded as the favourite tomorrow.
''The surface is different here, it's slower and it should be better for him (Nadal) but I'm playing great and I'm full of confidence'', Nalbandian said.
The 2002 Wimbledon runner-up was in control from the opening game and showed signs of nerves only towards the end when he served for the match, leading 5-2, and was broken for the first time.
Two games later, however, he earned his first match point and converted it with a service winner.
''When he plays that well, there's not much you can do,'' Gasquet said of his opponent. ''Even against Federer, I never felt that helpless.'' Nadal, appearing at the 2.45-million dollar indoor event for the first time, is trying to become the second player to win the Paris Masters and the French Open, after Andre Agassi.
Baghdatis, featuring in the last four of a Masters Series event for the first time, had needed to win the title to stand a chance of making the Nov. 11-18 Masters Cup in Shanghai featuring the world's top eight.
The 2006 Australian Open runner-up mounted a spirited challenge, opening up a 6-4 2-0 lead but Nadal bounced back to preserve his unbeaten run in Paris.
''Marcos played really well but I managed to find the solution by being more aggressive and showing more initiative,'' Nadal said.
''I love this city, and not only because I keep winning here,'' he added. ''It's the nicest place in the world after Mallorca.'' Baghdatis, who has been based in France for eight years, was cheered on throughout by the 15,000 crowd packing the Bercy hall.
''It's tough to lose a match when you're a set up, a break up and everything's under control,'' he said ''You can't say I made mistakes or anything but the guy just put his level up a bit.''