Nadal took some time finding his feet in the early stages with Grigor Dimitrov's powerful serve proving some concern for the world number one.
The one positive for Cilic, however, is that sole victory happened to be a 6-1, 6-3 trouncing in Beijing, their only previous meeting in Chinese territory, holding some hope for the Croat in Shanghai come Saturday's semi. Nonetheless, he sent a backhand long in game 7 to drop serve again and there was no returning from there since Marin sealed the deal with 2 holds at love to book his place in the semis.
The world No.1 on Friday lost his first set of the week before winning 6-4 6-7 (4-7) 6-3.
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"I felt good in the first match", the 36-year-old said.
Fognini was playing the day after being handed a suspended ban from two grand slams and $96,000 fine for verbally abusing a female umpire at the U.S. Open. Mathematically, there are obviously chances that I can be bumped out if I don't win, for example, tomorrow.
Fourth-seeded Marin Cilic stands between Nadal and a second ATP final in two weeks.
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Dimitrov battled hard in the final set but Nadal was keen to avoid going the distance once more and took the final set 6-3.
The German prodigy and the 29-year-old, whose career has been beset by injury, went toe to toe in the second set and the tie break was just as tight until Del Potro grabbed the crucial mini-break. "They are quite clear for me and I also am a little bit more consistent this year in serving performances".
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