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. "Playing a little better every day is a great feeling."
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 did not come to New York in 2012, part of about a seven-month absence due mainly to 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.
Nadal, meanwhile, was never challenged even the slightest bit 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.
This one lasted 1 hour, 40 minutes, and it really was over after 22 minutes. That's how long it took Nadal to dominate the first set, not only winning every game but also 24 of 29 points, including all seven that lasted 10 strokes or more.
"He was up very quick," said Robredo, who is 0-7 in Grand Slam quarterfinals, "and then there was nothing else to do. He was too good."
The other 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.
In the women's semifinals Friday, No. 1 Serena Williams faces No. 5 Li Na, and No. 2 Victoria Azarenka plays unseeded Flavia Pennetta.
Azarenka and Pennetta won their quarterfinals Wednesday.