By Mario Sarmento

Rafael Nadal faced his toughest test so far at the 2014 Sony Open Tennis tournament, fending off No. 12 seed Milos Raonic of Canada 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 to reach the semifinals.

“He was a big problem for me,” Nadal said. “It’s very hard to play these kinds of players, especially when you didn’t start the match the way you would like.”

After evening the match with an easy second set, Nadal and Raonic were even 3-3 before the top seed came up with the biggest break, as a deep forehand forced a backhand into the net by Raonic. Nadal and Raonic each won their next game on serve, and Nadal went up 40-0 before his final serve was returned long by Raonic, giving the Spaniard the match.

The upstart Canadian stunned Nadal by handing him his first set loss of the tournament, thanks to a big serve that reached as high as 144 mph. He was able to get his only break of the match to put away the set, and put Nadal in trouble. “I was lucky I started that second set with a break,” Nadal said. “That was very important for me. I think I started the match playing okay, and then after two or three more games I think I started to play much better.”

Nadal began the second set looking to make up what he felt he had given away in the opener, breaking Raonic in the very first game and reeling of four games in a row to essentially end the set. The tournament’s top seed improved to 5-0 lifetime against Raonic in reaching his fifth semifinal in Key Biscayne.

Nadal will next face Tomas Berdych, a straight-set winner over Alex Dolgopolov in the semifinals, as he continues on his quest for his first-ever Sony Open win.