By doug mckenzie Staff Writer Last week was a big week for the Raritan High School boys baseball team. This week could be even bigger. Raritan entered yesterday’s Group II semifinal against Manchester on the heels of their first sectional title in 15 years, when their coach T. J. O’Donnell led the Rockets to the crown. A win there, and they’d be playing for a group title later this week. Today, the Rockets are scheduled to take on St. Rose in the quarterfinals of the Monmouth County Tournament in Belmar. The fifth-seeded Rockets hope to maintain their winning ways against the fourth-seeded Purple Roses, and prolong another tournament run. Last week’s madness began with Tuesday’s trip to Carteret for a Central Jersey Group II semifinal. The game got under way, only to be postponed by rain in the first inning. That meant a return trip to Carteret on Thursday to take on the bracket’s top seed. Needless to say, it was worth the trip, as the Rockets knocked off Carteret 6-3 to advance to the final on Friday against Spotswood. Catcher Shaun Hanrahan’s two-RBI double in the top of the sixth gave Raritan the lead for good, and Shaun Walsh, pitching his first start in more than a month after suffering a thumb injury, went the distance for the win, striking out four and walking one. On Friday, it was sophomore Sal Straniero’s turn to play hero, as he blasted a two-RBI double in the fifth inning to give the Rockets a three-run lead in the sectional final against Spotswood at Hamilton East High School. On the mound, Mike Nunes battled through a rough start to get the win, going the distance for his third win of the season. Spotswood jumped on top early, getting a two-run home run from their slugger, Colin Feneis, in the top of the first inning to take the early lead. But Raritan fought back, with Hanrahan getting the Rockets on the board with an RBI ground out in the bottom of the first. Freshman Rick Russomano then ripped a double, scoring Walsh to tie the game, and then scored on a Steve Plangianakos RBI single. Raritan added three more runs in the second as Hanrahan stroked a two-run double and Russomano knocked an RBI single up the middle, giving Raritan a 6-2 lead. Spotswood closed the gap to 6-5 with three runs in the top of the fifth, but Nunes shut the door from there, and Straniero’s double in the bottom of the fifth gave Raritan the cushion it needed. Nunes finished the game with seven strikeouts and one walk. On Saturday, Raritan returned to the diamond for a Shore Conference Tournament game against Red Bank Regional, but fell, 10-4. “We were coming off a strenuous week and just didn’t play well,’ O’Donnell said. “We played a lot of baseball last week, and each game had a lot of tension. It was rough, but everyone has had tough schedules, so no excuses.” But making excuses is one thing O’Donnell hasn’t had to do a lot of this year. The Rockets entered yesterday’s game at 20-5 and have played exactly the type of baseball their coach expected of them this year. “Expectations were high this year from day one,” O’Donnell said. “We always set the bar high, but this year in particular we were really looking forward to competing. “We were hoping to be able to compete in the state, Shore Conference and Monmouth County tournaments, and we’re happy to get one of the three under our belts already, along with a share of the B North title (with Monmouth Regional).” But don’t think for a minute that the Rockets are satisfied. “No matter what happens from here on out, it’s been a successful year,” the coach said. “But we’ve reached the point where the guys have become hungry for more. We were happy to get out of the section with our first title in 15 years, but we’re still focused, and we realize that there’s more out there to shoot for.” The Rockets’ strong play has been threefold. Not only has the pitching been there, but they have played solid defense behind their pitchers. And as for the offense, the numbers speak for themselves. Straniero has quickly emerged as one of the Shore’s most dangerous hitters, batting .495 with five home runs and 40 RBIs — impressive numbers for anyone, much less a sophomore. Walsh, who plays first and third base when not pitching, has also been hot, hitting .487 with five home runs and 24 RBIs. Hanrahan’s recent success at the plate has pushed his average up to .402, with one home run and 28 RBIs, while Russomano is batting .395 with a home run and 24 RBIs. Add to the mix Nunes, who is hitting .368, and you begin to see how the Rockets are scoring so many runs this season. “We had a lot of wins coming back, but we also expected the offense to carry us a little bit, and it did through much of the season,” O’Donnell said. “But our pitching will be the difference. Late in the season you need to pitch well and play good defense, and we’ve been doing that thus far.”While Walsh, who is 4-1 on the year, was scheduled to start yesterday, Russomano will take the hill today against St. Rose. The freshman has been superb, pitching to a 6-0 mark thus far. “We’ve been a little surprised with his success,” O’Donnell admitted. “We’ve kind of thrown him into action following some injuries, and he has responded. We expected him to be a fourth or fifth starter, but he’s been tremendous as one of our top two guys.” There seem to be a lot of things going right for the Rockets this year, and they’re hoping their good fortune leads to a few more wins this week. They’ve become more than just a solid team on a good postseason run: They’ve become the team nobody wants to play. By doug mckenzieStaff Writer
Sports Shorts The Hazlet Recreation Commission is once again offering a tennis program at Raritan High School for beginners and intermediates, ages 7-17. The cost of the program is $35. Pre-registration is required for this program, which will begin June 28 and continue for five weeks, Monday through Thursday. One hour of instruction will be given twice a week (Monday/ Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday) during the hours of 8 a.m. and 2 p.m., depending on which group the student is enrolled in. Participants must join the camp to join the travel team. The instructor is Brian Kraus. Students must have their own rackets and wear proper attire. Registrations are being accepted through June 11 at the James J. Cullen Center, or by mail at 1776 Union Ave., Hazlet 07730. Payments will be accepted by check or money order only. Although an effort will be made to honor requests for specific group placement, there is no guarantee that it will always be possible. Absolutely no registrations will be taken after June 11.
BY WARREN RAPPLEYEAStaff Writer The St. John Vianney High School girls basketball team is looking to rebound after uncharacteristically failing to qualify for both the state sectional and Shore Conference tournaments. New coach Dawn Karpell, a former SJV player who graduated in 1995, said she will emphasize the defense-first philosophy that made the Lancers a state power. Karpell joins the Lancers after spending the past four years coaching at Holmdel for a Hornets team that won consistently under her tutelage. “I want to press the ball and create turnovers,” Karpell said. “Our goal is to make the opposition work hard to bring the ball up the floor.” Seniors Lisa Apo and Kayla Killian are the key returnees for SJV, and Karpell is counting on them to lead the way. Apo, an excellent shooter who averaged 15 ppg a year ago, gives the Lancers a scoring a consistent scoring threat. Apo will play for Division I Sacred Heart in Fairfield, Conn., next season. Killian, a 6-0 forward who averaged 8.5 points and nearly eight rebounds, is expected to help SJV control the glass. She’ll play for Fairleigh Dickinson next winter. Point guard Lari Sarni, a dangerous shooter from three-point range, teams with Apo in the backcourt. Melanie Richards, Kayla McKavanaugh and sophomores Kaitlyin Linney and Jen Mulvey will also see plenty of action, according to the coach. “We’re deep and very talented at guard and we could see a different player step up each night,” Karpell said. “We’ll also be looking to pick up the tempo offensively and all of our guards can get the ball up the court in a hurry.” If the Lancers are to run, they’ll need to control the defensive boards. Killian will play a key role there, along with 5-9 forward Dawn Grashorn and 5-8 Danielle Christie. Christyn Tempora, a 6-0 junior center, and sophomores Kayla Palmer and Kate Wilverding provide additional support under the hoop. SJV opened the campaign on Friday at home against Rumson-Fair Haven in a Shore Conference Class A Central match-up of two of the Shore’s top teams. RFH got the better of the Lancers on Friday, pulling out a 44-38 win despite a furious comeback effort from SJV. Apo led the Lancers with 16 points, and keyed a 12-2 fourth-quarter run with knotted the score at 36 with 2:21 to play, but the Bulldogs experienced players took control from there to seal the win, and give RFH the early edge in the A Central race. The Lancers next visited division rival Red Bank Catholic, the top ranked team in the Shore, on Monday before heading into the Trenton Central Holiday Tournament, which includes second-ranked Middletown South, New Brunswick and the host team. “We start out with a couple of very tough games and then we head into what should be a real competitive tournament,” the coach said. “You have to start somewhere, so our girls will just have to be ready to go.” In addition to Karpell, the Lancers coaching staff includes former SJV stars Nina Vecchio and Tami Coyle. Vecchio will serve as the varsity assistant, while Coyle will run the junior varsity. “Things worked out well for me at Holmdel, but it seemed like the right time to make the move,” Karpell said. “It’s like coming home for me. We’re [the coaching staff] very excited about being here.” BY WARREN RAPPLEYEA Staff Writer
The 2009 Ultimate Authority Umpire Clinic will run from March 6-8 at Dave Gallagher’s All-American Baseball Academy, 7 Yellow Meeting House Road in Millstone. The clinic is designed for all umpires from beginners to experienced. The staff comprises experienced professionals who will cover the basics like communication skills with your partner and coaches, proper plate mechanics, base mechanics and working the two-man system. Cost for the 16 hours of instruction is $109. Or more information on the clinic, call 908-331-2808 or e-mail ultimateau firstname.lastname@example.org. Registration deadline is Feb. 13.
Matt Johnson exulted in Middletown High School South’s hockey team winning its second straight Shore Conference A South Handchen Cup title, beating Brick Memorial High School for the second straight year, 4-2. But he believed his season would not have been complete until the team made the state tournament, after falling short of qualifying last year. Middletown South players hold the Handchen Cup Trophy up after winning it for a second straight year defeating Brick Memorial, 4-2, in the final on Feb. 27 at Winding River Park in Toms River. LINDA LITTENBERG The junior forward, who has led the Eagles in scoring the past two seasons, saw that come to fruition as the Eagles beat Jackson Memorial High School in the opening round, 8-1, and then fell in the NJSIAA Public Schools quarterfinals in overtime to Howell High School, 4- 3, at Gold Coast Arena in Wall on March 3. “I’d rather lose the Handchen Cup final and win in the states,” said Johnson. Coach Stan Gutt said that “next year, the goals will be set even higher,” with only five players graduating from this year’s 16-6-2 team. “They really came together at the end,” said Gutt, whose team loses to graduation forwards Justin Horowitz, who scored 12 goals and had 10 assists, Jim Valan and Paul Vilanova, and defensmen Terrance Doyle and Nick Camoniti. Johnson thinks the Eagles can be even better in 2010-11. “I think we’ll be much better, but we have a bunch of good players coming back, including some new ones who really helped the team this year,” said Johnson, referring to two transfers from Christian Brothers Academy, including his sophomore brother, Brett, who scored 15 goals and had six assists. “It was fun playing on the line with my brother, who scored a lot of goals lately. He’s always fast and is always getting behind the defense for a breakaway pass.” Brett Johnson had an immediate impact on South. “Since becoming eligible in January, Brett really made a difference for our team,” said Gutt. But Matt Johnson, who led the way with 19 goals and 13 assists as an All-Shore A Division first team selection, said he and his mates were eager to advance to the semifinals against Randolph before their season was cut short. “We were looking forward to that,” said Johnson. “My buddy on Howell, Dave Ramos, always finds a way to score, and when they threw it on the net, he was in good position for the rebound [with 28 seconds left] that forced the overtime.” Both played club hockey together at one time. Then in the overtime, Howell scored one of the few breakaway goals this season against Middletown South goalie Chris Morsillo, a third-year starter who made the All-Shore A Division second team, with a shot to his lower stick side at 1:57. “They made a good passing play,” Gutt said of the winning goal. “We were on a rush and they went on a counterattack off a blind pass [by Middletown].” Matt Johnson said it was a misdirected pass that led to the turnover and overtime goal. “We could have thrown it deep in the zone, but we threw it in the middle and they picked it, and I could not track their guy down,” said Johnson. Ironically, the teams played in January with Middletown South winning by a 4-3 count. Down 3-1 with around five minutes left in the game, the Eagles scored three times to pull out the victory. Along with the Johnsons, some good firepower returns in Chris Connor, who logged 12 goals and eight assists; Jason Zimel, who had a dozen goals and five assists; Tyler Ralph, who had six goals and 10 assists, and Jimmy Burns, who assisted on 13 goals. All are sophomores except for Zimel, who is a junior. Other returning sophomores are Zach England, Matt Littenberg and Steve Sangermano. BY WAYNE WITKOWSKI Staff Writer
By TIM MORRIS Staff Writer She calls it the “big field.” It’s the final tenth of a mile at Holmdel Park’s 3.1-mile high school cross-country course where the harriers exit the backwoods and have the final sprint home.It was in the “big field” where Holmdel High School’s Marin Warner won the biggest race of her scholastic cross-country career: the NJSIAA Group II state championship race on Nov. 15.To win it, the Hornets standout only had to beat last year’s Meet of Champions (MOC) winner, Briana Gess of Haddonfield Memorial High School, a sophomore who had never lost to a New Jersey runner.“My goal was to try and win it,” Warner said. “I knew it would be a hard race.”To upset the favored Gess, Warner knew the key was not letting the Haddonfield runner get an early lead. At last year’s group championships, Warner let Gess get away early and was never able to pull back enough time. Warner’s plan was to stay in contact with Gess.“I thought she’d go out pretty fast,” Warner said. “She didn’t. I stayed with her and tried to stay comfortable.”At two miles, Gess and Warner broke away from the field, and Gess stepped up her pace, with Warner going with her.In the backwoods (the last halfmile), Warner saw in the narrow path that Gess wasn’t going to let her pass, so the Hornet bided her time waiting for the “big field.”As the runners left the woods, Warner “started kicking” using her 800- to 1,600-meter track speed.“I made it this far; I had to give [winning] a chance,” Warner said. “I went for it.”Warner’s track speed prevailed, and she was the new Group II state champion, finishing the race in 18:37 — seven seconds ahead of Gess.“It’s a great feeling knowing I can beat her,” Warner said.Looking ahead to the MOC on Nov. 22 at Holmdel, Warner expects Gess to run the first mile harder, and she’s prepared to put it on the line and stay in contact with her.Having moved up as one of the favorites, Warner still sees herself as the underdog. She pointed out that her time was the sixth fastest at the group championships. North Hunterdon High School’s Eve Glasergreen clocked 18:15 in winning the Group IV title. “There are other girls to beat,” she said. Before the group championships, Christian Brothers Academy’s (CBA) cross-country team appeared to be a lock to win another MOC title.The Colts have been the top-ranked team in the state from the start of the season and showed no sign of weakness throughout the campaign. But in the Non-Public A race, the Colts needed their depth more than ever, as they needed the sixth-runner tiebreaker to beat Don Bosco Preparatory High School.After their top five runners finished their races, CBA and Don Bosco were tied with 35 points each. The champion would be decided by the tiebreaker. For the Colts, sixth man Tom Dengler finished 13th (16:40) — two places ahead of Don Bosco’s sixth runner, Luke Novak (16:47), to win it for the Colts.Don’t let anyone tell you that every runner and every place don’t count in cross-country.The late Steve Prefontaine called cross-country “a team sport of individuals,” where every runner is as important as the team’s No. 1. CBA was proof of that, as Dengler’s finish was every bit as important as the individual victory of the Colts’ Blaise Ferro.Ferro, who will be a contender for the individual MOC title, won the Non- Public A title in 15:51 to lead CBA.Behind Ferro, Nick Trigani (16:20), Aidan Durney (16:23), Brian Dengler (16:24) and Sean Martinek (16:26) finished seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th.The CBA-Don Bosco battle will be a highlight of the MOC.There is a clear-cut favorite for the girls title: Red Bank Catholic High School (RBC). The Caseys broke their school record for team average (19:29) while winning Non-Public A with a score of just 30 points. They stacked their five scorers within nine seconds of each other in an impressive display of team strength.Eryn Mills (19:25), Gracie Eckstein (19:28), Megan Cronk (19:30), MaryKate McNamara (19:31) and Caitlin O’Hare (19:34) put a new meaning to pack running, finishing fourth through eighth as RBC beat runner-up Immaculate Heart Academy (76) by 46 points.The top 10 individuals from each group meet qualified for the MOC.Those extending their seasons were Middletown High School North’s Mike Marano, who was fifth in Group III (16:20); Holmdel’s Aaron Barlev, who was fourth in Group II (16:10); and St. John Vianney High School’s Nora Honrath, who was third in girls Non Public-A (19:16).
By WAYNE WITKOWSKI Correspondent MIDDLETOWN NORTH A five-man core of returning wrestlers with a cumulative record of 143-45 — led by 37-bout winner Chad Freshnock — carry the hopes of Middletown High School North, which looks to go beyond last year’s 18-9 record that included a trip to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV semifinals, its best showing in 18 years.In the state playoff match, the Lions lost respectably to Ocean Township, 30-27. It was “a pretty big deal,” according to coach Matt Sirchio. Middletown North’s best advance before that was winning a sectional title in 1995-96.This year, Middletown North is competing in North Jersey II Group IV.“We look to be very competitive and to make the sectional finals,” said Sirchio, whose team opens on Dec. 20 in the Mount Olive Tournament, where it finished in second place last year.There was a Black and Orange scrimmage on Dec. 17 this week. Last season, the Lions had a third-place finish (5-2) in Shore Conference A North, although it is tough to hurdle perennial power Howell High School and formidable Christian Brothers Academy.Only four key wrestlers graduated from last year’s team, led by District 22 champion Anthony Fabiano, who was 28-10 at 170 pounds, and Region VI qualifier Mat Oden at 132 pounds. Jim Shopp, who won 14 bouts at 120 and 126 pounds, and heavyweight Carlton Spence, who won 16 bouts, also graduated.Freshnock, who was 37-7, mostly at 195 pounds, was among the top 12 in the state last year and carries a 70-12 career record into this season. But he’ll be joining the team in January after recovering from injuries suffered during the football season, during which he rushed for more than 1,000 yards for the second straight year as the Lions secured their first winning record in 14 years. Sirchio is expecting another big season once Freshnock returns.Another 20-bout winner was Paul Capaldo, a 145-pounder who was 31-9 last year and a district runner-up who lost a close decision in the region tournament.“He’s poised for a big year. He has the ability and talent to be on the podium in Atlantic City [at the state championships],” Sirchio said.The rest of that core group includes senior Fred Svenson, a 170-pounder who got a nameplate victory in the state sectional quarterfinals against Jackson Liberty High School and just missed the regions with a fourth-place finish in the sections. He was 25-9 last season.Junior Anthony Ventrano was 27-9 at 182 pounds and made the regions with a third-place finish in the district. Sophomore Thomas Anderson was 23-11 last season at 160 pounds.“The rest of the wrestlers are role players in a tough schedule,” Sirchio said. “The biggest thing is their selflessness [and] their pushing each other to get better.”The rest of the roster includes, in the lower weights, juniors Logan Santos at 113 pounds; Ed Waltz, who had 15 victories at 126; and Jack Van Sant in the 126 and 132 weight classes. Scott Svenson, a junior and Fred’s younger brother, had 10 victories at 152 pounds. Senior Brandon Tanglao had limited experience last season and will wrestle at 138 with junior Drew Wentworth.In the highest weights, senior Vin Pianoforte is out for the team off a solid football season, and he and sophomore Josh Goldfarb will wrestle at 220 pounds, while senior Tyler Bienkowski won eight bouts at heavyweight. Freshman Austin Dewise is also vying for an opportunity at that uncustomarily high weight class for a new, young wrestler.Sirchio believes freshman Stan Wojdylak is a bright prospect at 121.Included on the schedule is a division match at Middletown High School South on Jan. 28.Middletown North will look for a berth in the Shore Conference Tournament in late January and the state sectionals on Feb. 9-13. The district tournament follows on Feb. 20. MIDDLETOWN SOUTH Defending district champion Matt Best, a senior who was 32-6 at 132 pounds, leads a largely untested lineup off last year’s 13- 12 season (2-4 in A North).Four wrestlers had a comparable number of bouts: senior Nick Koehler (15-17) at 138 pounds, junior Louis Avena (7-16) at 145, junior Trent Giglio (10-13) at 170, junior Dylan Rogers (9-6) at 220, junior Brendan Rumsby (8-16) at 160 and junior Sean Killeen (7-15) at 195.“We should be strong in the middle and upper weights,” second-year coach Dan Ling said. “Although the team is young, they know how to work hard, and that will serve them well in and out of wrestling.”Middletown South opens in the Neptune Classic on Dec. 20 and hosts its Walter Woods Invitational on Dec. 27.“I’m hoping the team will continue to grow throughout the season because we have some guys who can make noise come district time,” Ling said.The rest of the lineup includes freshmen Hugh MacLellan at 106 pounds and Dan Ward at 113, and sophomores Mark Walker at 120 and Eric Green (4-1 last year) at 126. Three wrestlers are vying for 132: juniors Dylan Murphy and Christian Desanctis and sophomore Will McCauley. Junior Alex Carter and freshman Justin Weimer are battling at 138. Junior Mike West can sub for Best at 152, and freshman Jack Hardzewicz has been working out at 160. Along with Giglio, senior Jack Buchalski is at 170 and junior Rob Hulse was 3-4 at 182 last season. Freshman Adam Markmann is practicing at 220 pounds, and sophomore Kian Ciuro is the frontrunner at heavyweight.
DUBAI’S Emirates airline will sponsor the FA Cup for the next three years until 2018, the English Football Association announced on Saturday.The FA had been looking for a new sponsor for football’s oldest knockout competition after Budweiser’s three-year deal came to an end last year.The FA, which will rebrand the competition as The Emirates FA Cup, did not release any financial details.However, British media estimated the deal was worth a total of at least £30m.“Emirates’ commitment to our sport is evident and securing such an iconic and forward-thinking lead partner for The FA Cup is great news for us, the fans and for the whole game,” FA chairman Greg Dyke said in a statement.“The partnership will help take the tournament to new audiences, inspire interest in football from across the globe and allow us to continue our investment into the game at all levels.”Arsenal face Aston Villa in the final at Wembley later on Saturday aiming to lift the trophy for a record 12th time.
By Ed OsmondA callow England team with a new coach take on a bullish and streetwise Australia in an intriguing Ashes series which should provide plenty of drama and aggressive cricket.Michael Clarke’s touring side will attempt to win the urn on English soil for the first time in 14 years and Alastair Cook’s hosts will try to win back the trophy following their crushing 5-0 defeat in the last series Down Under.Two years ago Australia went into the Ashes with a new coach in Darren Lehman and lost 3-0, but it was a victory margin which flattered England.This time around the hosts will be led by Australian coach Trevor Bayliss who will aim to build on the feelgood factor generated by England’s impressive resurgence in the recent one-day series against New Zealand.Australia all-rounder Shane Watson believes having the 52-year-old Bayliss at the helm will give England an advantage.“He knows a lot of us very well,” Watson said. “He’ll have these ideas about how he can try to expose our team. The edge will be the inside information he will have. But we know that if we are at our best we will be very hard to beat.”England stagnated under former coach Peter Moores, drawing a Test series in West Indies this year before being held by New Zealand on home soil under Paul Farbrace.After two barren years Alastair Cook has rediscovered his batting form but doubts remain about whether he has the captaincy acumen to outwit the Australians.“I’m not sure how much flair he has,” said former England captain Mike Brearley who masterminded three Ashes victories.“It will be difficult for him if things don’t go well to start with – and if he doesn’t feel he’s got the same spirit that the team have had in the one-day matches recently, and if he doesn’t quite feel in charge.“Alastair Cook is not a big extrovert. He’s not somebody who is going to change things in dramatic ways.”Brearley thinks Australia have a significant advantage in their bowling attack spearheaded by Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Ryan Harris.“Australia are a very tough team,” Brearley said. “On paper, they’re a better team than us. They’ve certainly got better bowling than we have.“But we’re playing at our home grounds, which makes a difference. If we can get that spirit going, and people play to their best, then we’ve got a chance.”England were lifted in the New Zealand series by positive and match-changing innings from their middle-order batsmen.“One of the exciting things is the flair in the young players from number five to number eight – Joe Root is a terrific player, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali,” Brearley said.Cook will need major contributions from his experienced opening bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad and will be desperate for Gary Ballance and Ian Bell to rediscover their form at numbers three and four.England could be tempted to play leg-spinner Adil Rashid in the first Test in Cardiff starting on Wednesday (1pm) but it would be a gamble given the prolific form of the Australians.Steve Smith is the top-ranked batsman in the world after a phenomenal run while David Warner, Chris Rogers, Clarke and Watson are proven run-scorers in English conditions.The first Test usually proves to be pivotal.Two years ago England won a thrilling and fluctuating game in Nottingham by 14 runs and in 2009 the hosts’ last-wicket pair Anderson and Monty Panesar survived for 37 minutes in Cardiff to secure the draw which set up a 2-1 series win.
Novak Djokovic extended his winning streak at the China Open to 27 matches with a 6-2 6-2 demolition over big-serving American John Isner on Friday.The world number one was in devastating form, conceding just three aces in a masterclass performance to reach the semi-finals in Beijing.The Serbian is chasing his sixth title in Beijing and his seventh this year, which already includes the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open championships.His next opponent is Spain’s David Ferrer, who won the Malaysian Open last week. Ferrer eased into the semi-finals with a 6-3 6-1 victory over Taiwan’s Lu Yen-hsun.Rafa Nadal had a much harder time in his quarter-final with American Jack Sock, before prevailing 3-6 6-4 6-3.The Spaniard is still struggling to get back to his best but said he was pleased with the way he fought back.“Obviously I finished the match playing better than what I started. This year I lost a lot of matches when I had an advantage,” Nadal said.“So to have the chance to win a match when I start losing … is important for me.”Nadal will face Fabio Fognini in the semi-finals after the Italian beat Pablo Cuevas 6-1 2-6 6-2. Nadal has lost three of his last four matches against Fognini, including at the US Open when he blew a two-set lead in the third round.“When you play against a great player, especially if you don’t play to your best, your chances are lower,” Nadal said.“If I am able to play my best tomorrow, I am going to have my chances. If not, it is going to be tough. It’s simple. Sport is simple. The winner is the player who plays better. Fognini played better in the three matches that he beat me.”In the women’s draw, Wimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza beat Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the US 6-1 7-5 to ease into the semi-finals, joining Ana Ivanovic, Agnieszka Radwanska and Timea Bacsinszky.